Being accused and convicted of a crime you did not commit is a nightmare you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it was reality for Colin Warner. A New Yorker by way of Trinidad, he and another man named Norman Simmonds in 1980 were convicted of murder, despite a lack of evidence.
The new film Crown Heights recounts the story of Warner's (Lakeith Stanfield) wrongful conviction and his best friend Carl “KC” King's (Nnamdi Asomugha) dogged work to exonerate him. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin, the film attempts to tell the full story, from the killing of Mario Hamilton on April 10, 1980 through the 21 years that Warner spent in prison.
Ruskin includes as much detail as he can in the film’s 94 minutes — Warner’s protestation of innocence that falls on deaf ears for years, King’s stubborn pursuit of justice that costs him more than time and money, and others who refused to give up on Warner even when things seem hopeless.
A film like this is designed to make you angry and/or frustrated, and it succeeds mightily. Especially when detectives, judges, lawyers, and jury seemingly refuse to pay attention to the perfectly reasonable case put before them. Injustice is one thing, but willful ignorance is unfathomable.
But Ruskin and the film fall short in making the story as dramatic as it needs to be. It feels too condensed; some aspects need to be expanded on, given time to breathe. Certain elements feel rushed because the story tries to cover too many points.
What keeps Crown Heights compelling are the performances by Stanfield and Asomugha. Stanfield's recent credits include the TV show Atlanta and Get Out, and he proves here why he’s so in demand. From his accent to the emotional upheavals, he never strikes a false note. Asomugha, a former NFL player and one of the producers, proves himself Stanfield’s equal. His burgeoning film career looks to have a bright future.
Crown Heights’ tale of injustice and redemption is an all-too-familiar one and could have used some extra oomph, but it still delivers when it needs to.