Crown Heights

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

CROWN HEIGHTS, docu­d­rama, rated R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

With a prison pop­u­la­tion of more than two mil­lion, the U.S. is the undis­puted leader of the world when it comes to coun­tries that lock up its own cit­i­zens. The clos­est run­ner-up is China, which has more than four times as many peo­ple and about half a mil­lion fewer pris­on­ers. Crown Heights presents the real-life case of one Amer­i­can pris­oner: Colin Warner, who spent 21 years be­hind bars, con­victed of a mur­der that he didn’t com­mit.

Lakeith Stan­field plays Warner in writer-di­rec­tor Matt Ruskin’s adap­ta­tion of this true story. In the open­ing scenes, he is a soft-spo­ken teenager who works as a me­chanic with other mem­bers of his Brook­lyn com­mu­nity who, like him, are from the West Indies. He pals around with his good friend Carl King (for­mer Philadel­phia Ea­gles run­ning back Nnamdi Aso­mugha) and shyly asks his neigh­bor An­toinette (Natalie Paul) for a date. Then one day the po­lice pick him up and ask him why he shot a young man he has never met be­fore. He protests, but they claim to have eye­wit­ness ac­counts of his in­volve­ment. He is placed in jail pend­ing his trial, and af­ter that, sent to prison.

The first half of the film is par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful, fo­cus­ing on the minute de­tails of Warner’s world be­fore and af­ter his ar­rest. The cam­era dwells mo­men­tar­ily on the sweep­ing sec­ond hand of a clock in the po­lice sta­tion. Warner dreams of his child­hood, and we see him splash­ing through the surf, drib­bling a soc­cer ball. As he drifts back into con­scious­ness and the out­lines of his en­vi­ron­ment take shape, he whis­pers to him­self, “Please don’t let it be a cell.” But it is.

It may seem like un­fair crit­i­cism to men­tion that the stretches de­voted to Warner’s life in prison get a lit­tle mo­not­o­nous. The cast does warm and pas­sion­ate work, but the po­etry and weight of the early seg­ments give way to the frus­trat­ing grind of Warner’s slow progress through the ap­peals sys­tem. Thanks largely to the per­sis­tence of friends and fam­ily ad­vo­cat­ing on his be­half, he was freed in 2001.

In­ter­spersed through­out the movie are clips from var­i­ous politi­cians who are tout­ing their tough stances on crime. Mayor Ed Koch vows to put more cops on New York City streets, Bill Clin­ton an­nounces his “three strikes” pol­icy, and New York gover­nor Ge­orge Pataki proudly backs the re­turn of the death penalty. If At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions suc­ceeds in his ef­forts to bring back manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences and to fill pris­ons with non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers, we can ex­pect more in­no­cent peo­ple — es­pe­cially young peo­ple of color — to be swept up in the process. — Jeff Acker

Drama in real life: Colin Warner and ac­tor Lakeith Stan­field

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