Dir.: Matt Ruskin; Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul; USA 2017, 94 min.
Writer/director Matt Ruskin’S conventional portrait of Colin Warner is emotionally convincing. The Black teenager was wrongly convicted of murder as an eighteen-year-old, and had to spent 21 years in prison, before being released due to the efforts of his his best friend.
In 1980, Colin Warner (Stanfield), a Trinidadian emigrant, worked as a car mechanic in New York, and stole cars in his spare time. He had a stable home life and no record of violence. When two detectives arrested him, he thought it was down to his car heists – but to his surprise, he was accused of murdering a young man in Flatbush. Without motive, murder weapon or any physical evidence, Warner was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree, and was incarcerated in a High Secirity prison, to serve 15 years to life. The only “proof” in the trial was an “eye-witness”, a 15 year old boy, who cut a deal with the police for a crime he committed, in exchange for him naming Warner as the shooter. In prison Warner soon lost his temper, beating a warden which resulted in him spending two years in solitary confinement. Whilst he later calmed down, this incident cost him his parole in 1995. Due to the efforts of his friend Carl King (Asomughan, a co-producer), who risked his job and marriage, the truth finally emerged, and Warner was finally freed in 2001, to live in freedom with his wife Anoinette (Paul), whom he had married in prison.
CROWN HEIGHTS reminds us that miscarriages of justice in cases of black men are a regular affair. Ruskin enriches his drama with clips of speeches by Reagan, Bush sen. and Bill Clinton, all of them proudly announcing new and tougher laws aimed at the presumed violence carried out by minorities. It is only logical that King, asked by Warner, why he is working so hard for the truth, answers: “This isn’t just about you, it’s bigger than that. It could have been me”. DoP Tim Gills sticks with reliable images of social realism, and Lakeith, who was in contact with Warner, succeeds in giving us an absorbing emotional rollercoaster of twentyone years. AS
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 1-4 JUNE 2017