Crown Heights (NR)

Drama 99 min. September 8, 2017
By Danny King
In adapting for the screen the long, hard story of Colin Warner -- a Trinidadian native who, as a Brooklyn teenager in 1980, was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to prison for more than 20 years -- Matt Ruskin's Crown Heights moves along in a counterproductive hurry. Scenes rich with potential minutiae, ones that beg to be settled into, hustle past with a mere glance. As a result, Lakeith Stanfield, who plays Warner, is left with the tall task of maintaining a hold on his character, even as the movie becomes preoccupied with vague flashbacks and jarringly casual skips in chronology. The actor is often successful: Early on, Warner overhears nearby prisoners discussing the murder of which he's accused; when the scene cuts to the cafeteria, Stanfield performs a gesture so precise — dangling his spoon in the air like a string — that the character's suddenly galvanized prospects for freedom are made palpable. That's a vivid highlight, but most of Crown Heights — which is based on an episode of public radio's This American Life — suffers from structural confusion. Over and over, accounts from witnesses to the original crime are chopped up by half-realized flashbacks. Ruskin's scattershot approach feels like a hedge, as though he's worried that a simple conversation won't be enough to solidify his narrative's urgency without a hazy glimpse of a shooting or the quick slap of a gunshot.
Matt Ruskin Keith Stanfield, Nestor Carbonell, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Brian Tyree Henry Matt Ruskin IFC Films

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