Welcome to New York City. It is known as the city that never sleeps. For most people, wether they reside in the area or visit from abroad, New York is a world all to its own. As I have also pointed out, in film, New York City is also a place you cannot fake. Even if a movie is not showcasing any of the familiar sights of New York, there is just something so unique to it, which cannot be duplicated. Although we, as film fans, have probably seen dozens upon dozens of examples, set in New York City, there are some that, quite simply, stand out more than others do. Perhaps, it comes down to the story ,or, maybe, it is how the setting is used, throughout the plot. In any case, “Crown Heights,” based on a podcast of “This American Life,” should be easily and quickly considered as a credible example for a New York film.
“Crown Heights” was directed and written by none other than Matt Ruskin. As the saying often goes, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” By the way, Ruskin was also a co-producer. The premiere for this project took place at The Sundance Film Festival, back in January. In the process of its showcase, it was picked up by Amazon Studios and IFC Films.
The story follows the ins and outs of the true-life events surrounding a young man, originally from Trinidad, but who currently (as of 1979) resides in Brooklyn, New York. His name is Colin Warner and he was played by Keith Stanfield (“Get Out”). Even though there are multiple secondary characters who play important roles, within the story, aside from Warner, there are, basically, only two additional primary figures of worthy consequence: Carl King, his closest friend (played by Nnamdi Asomugha, “Hello, my Name is Doris”) and Antoinette, an old friend who, eventually, becomes much more (played by Natalie Paul).
Warner, as it turns out, is not a model citizen, but although he commits to certain criminal activities, none of it compares to what he is wrongfully accused of. In a sea of unfamiliar faces, amongst a neighborhood of shadows and frequently dark behavior, the individual is lost and very few, including those on the inside, can tell anyone or anything apart, or so it would seem. You see, as an outsider, the details, from the inside, are often blurry and unrecognizable. In order to connect with and fully understand the strife of an individual, one must traverse the surface and go far beyond the façade.
“Crown Heights” had plenty of opportunities to preach from the pulpit of prison cells and tell all of us what we should really already know, but it never truly did so. Much like last year’s eventual Best Picture victor, for the Academy Awards, the underlying message of the story was shown from a highly objective and honest perspective. This movie treats its prospective audience with a decent amount of respect. The greatest strength of this film is in its ability to draw in the viewer, quickly. As the plot evolves, the focus shifts somewhat away from Warner and more towards King, but there is nothing choppy or erratic about the tempo and flow of the movie. Equal time of importance is given where it is due, for the most part.
If you feel as though the film is dragging just a little bit, towards the end, it is probably due to the gradual change in emotion. Warner is highly volatile, throughout, but King is more subtle. It would appear that this is a fundamental difference in the characters, themselves. If so, then there was likely not much the movie could do to balance that out, at least not more than the filmmakers were able to do, already. In this case, it must be acceptable, and I believe it is.
As I was telling a fellow friend, who happens to enjoy film, about the impact of “Crown Heights,” for me, he exclaimed that this was a great time for a story like this to break ground, so to speak. I suppose that might be true, but, then again, could there actually be a bad time for a tale like this one to be unveiled to the masses of the movie world? I guess that remains to be seen, but if the results at this year’s Sundance Film Festival are any guide, “Crown Heights” should be one that will be talked about, in a similar vein as “Fruitvale Station,” just two years ago. The details of this 20-year voyage may not be as controversial as what was on display in the aforementioned film, but that could easily work in its favor, too.
There are, no doubt, true stories, which have yet to be told and need to be told. For the time being, “Crown Heights” is the latest and greatest, of that trend. If you ever wondered what it might be like to persevere and to know what an amazing friendship and deep love looks like, in the face of that perseverance, wake up to a wonderful experience, which Warner woke up to, 21 years after his justice was overdue.
Director: Matt Ruskin
Starring: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Nestor Carbonell as Bruce Regenstreich, Gbenga Akinnagbe as Sampson, Sarah Goldberg as Shirley Robedee, Josh Pais as District Attorney Maffeo, Ron Canada as Judge Marcy, Zach Grenier as Detective Cassel, Yul Vasquez as Commissioner Rafello, Adriane Lenox as Grace and Natalie Paul
Music: Mark De Gli Antoni
Distributors: Amazon Studios and IFC Films
Release: August 18th, 2017