Crown Heights is the kind of film you don’t always enjoy, but are glad to have seen afterwards. Writer-director Matt Ruskin doesn’t quite do justice to the affecting true life story; the screenplay feels like a jigsaw puzzle short of a few pieces, and there are moments which try credibility.
Several actors’ inexpert attempts at Trinidadian twang falter distractingly towards Irish lilt, and a colour palette of predominantly grey, black and blue flattens Crown Heights visually. In the more investigative almost Spotlight-esque latter half, however, Ruskin’s film gains momentum and indicates its full potential.
As Colin’s prison sentence is chronicled Crown Heights feels Shawshank-lite. Generic prison themes such as corruption and homosexuality are approached perfunctorily without fleshing out relevant characters. It feels like a box-ticking shorthand we’ve all seen before.
Colin, too, is a problematic lead. Heartbreakingly raw in Short Term 12 and chilling in Get Out, here Lakeith Stanfield makes an ersatz graduation to leading man status. He hasn’t nailed the accent yet physically his performance is one of great power, strongest in subtle movements which convey the cracks in Colin’s calm façade. Colin may be the face of long-won justice in Crown Heights, yet Nnamdi Asomugha’s Carl King is at least as much of a focal point and hero. It’s his journey we follow during the film’s most gripping section, so much so that Colin can seem bland in comparison.
King’s investigation gifts Crown Heights a late-in-the-game mystery structure which does wonders for the pace, and the inclusion of political milestones affecting the justice system offers well-judged contextualisation. Key revelations, however, are obscured by legalese which dampens their narrative impact.
Crown Heights is underwritten, but Colin Warner’s story deserves to be heard and you could do much worse than this earnest and watchable retelling populated with confident performances.
CAST: Lakeith Stanfield, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell
DIRECTOR: Matt Ruskin
WRITER: Matt Ruskin
SYNOPSIS: When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend Carl King devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence.