by George Wolf
An innocent man is convicted of murder and sent to prison. For decades, his appeals are ignored while family members refuse to give up hope. Tragically, Crown Heights tells a story we have seen before, and while the film’s commitment is never lacking, a true depth of feeling is never quite realized.
Writer/director Matt Ruskin adapts the true story of Colin Warner, who spent twenty years in a maximum security prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The victim of mistaken identity, a backlog of cases, overzealous prosecutors and the systemic inequality of criminal justice, Warner became little more than a voiceless statistic, where “no matter what I say, nobody gonna listen.”
Ruskin is able to convey the enormity of all that is stacked against Warner, aided greatly by two stellar performances. As Warner, Lakeith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton, Get Out) uncovers the desperate confusion of innocence, while Nnamdi Asomugha (also one of the film’s producers) is the picture of quiet strength as the friend who sees Warner’s plight as universal and refuses to give up on him.
Warner’s story is another tragic example of a nearly unthinkable wrong, and Crown Heights does plenty right with it. But too often, the film misses the chance to make any intimate details resonate or to cut its own path, settling instead for a well-assembled summary of gut-wrenching events.