Watching Crown Heights at Sundance earlier this year, I sensed that the film felt a lot more important than it actually was. It tries to be life changing, when it’s really only a bit intriguing. Don’t get me wrong, I find the movie’s message extremely fascinating and important, but the story surrounding it should have been much more impactful. I never cared about the lead character and his horrible situation enough to feel what he felt, and because of that, I found the movie rather forgettable, despite its good intentions.
Colin Warner, the real life subject of Crown Heights, is a man who was convicted for a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to many years in prison. His friend, Carl King, is the one who fought to prove Colin’s innocence and release him. The film’s central message preaches against wrongful imprisonment, which is a very prominent issue in the country, and that message, fueled by standout performances from Keith Stanfield and Nnamdi Asomugha, is the strongest part of the film.
The first two acts drag as a result of the film’s failure to hook me early on. I wasn’t compelled by the story until it was nearly over, which is a huge disappointment. The first two acts are so sporadic that there’s never any time to sit down with the characters and learn to sympathize with them. Quite a bit of ground has to be covered in the beginning to present the entire story, so the film cuts ahead in time fairly often. Before I ever got the chance to get invested in a character or a moment, the movie was already jumping fifteen years into the future.
In the final few scenes of Crown Heights, maybe the last thirty to forty minutes, I started to get more interested in the situation and I was more captivated by the characters. That’s only the last thirty to forty minutes, though, which is disappointing in the scope of a ninety-four minute film. As a concept, based off of an episode of the podcast This American Life, Crown Heights had a lot of potential to open people’s eyes and shed light on a relevant and important subject. Unfortunately, I was only mildly interested in the film’s message.
This is due to choppy pacing and a lack of focus. The director, Matt Ruskin, is fine behind the camera but he’s too all over the place with his writing. A romantic subplot is thrown in that’s relevant to the story but comes out of nowhere, and that just comes to show that more care could have been put into this project to make it more meaningful. If it were more streamlined and let its characters have more time to grown on us, Crown Heights would have had a much more significant impact.
— Camden McDonald