By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
In the spring of 1980, an 18-year-old Brooklyn man was arrested for the murder of another young man in his Crown Heights neighborhood.
The problem was that the convicted killer, Colin Warner, was actually innocent of the crime – a victim of a rushed and botched investigation. The system, and his refusal to show remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, kept Warner in jail for the rest of the ’80s and all of the ’90s.
It wasn’t until 2001 – when new evidence was brought to light – that Warner’s conviction was overturned and he was set free.
“Crown Heights” details Warner’s arrest, incarceration, and the work put in by his friends, family, and Crown Heights neighbors to secure his freedom.
Colin (Lakeith Stanfield) is a pretty typical teenager – headstrong, slightly rebellious, but by most accounts not a violent criminal. That perception, however, changes when he is identified as one of two young men responsible for a murder in the neighborhood.
Despite not knowing the victim, the witnesses, or his fellow defendant, Colin is convicted of the crime and sentenced to 15 years to life.
Maintaining his innocence on the inside, and his family and friends doing the same on the outside, Colin begins the appeal process and eventually taking his turns before the parole board.
Despite the numerous hurdles – lost hope, lack of funds, etc. – Colin’s best friend, Carl ‘KC’ King (Nnamdi Asomugha) keeps fighting for Colin, putting his well-being at risk to obtain justice.
“Crown Heights” is an incredible story of friendship, perseverance, and striving for justice even when it doesn’t seem realistic.
It’s moving, even in its most depressing moments, and when those sporadic moments of joy hit, they hit extremely hard. This is legitimately a movie that makes you feel something.
A lot of credit for that should go to the under-the-radar cast.
Stanfield, who’s probably best known for small roles in “Get Out” and “Straight Outta Compton,” is masterful in his leading role, as is Asomugha, who’s more known for his accomplishments in the NFL (four time All-Pro) and behind the scenes (executive producer of “Beast of No Nation”) than he is for his brief time in front of the camera. These are two very meaty and demanding roles, and the duo performs them in outstanding fashion.
Also of note is the efforts of writer/director Matt Ruskin, who in only his second full-length feature, put together a strong, coherent story that tackles a very touchy subject, without ever giving off the sense that there’s any motive (political or otherwise) other than telling Colin’s story.
I’m not sure “Crown Heights” has the legs or the star power to be a contender come awards season, but it wouldn’t be surprising or disappointing if it does. Regardless, it’s an important story that needed to be told, and should be on everyone’s radars.
★★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.