Crown Heights

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Crown Heights Movie Poster Image
True story of a wrongful imprisonment has intense moments.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The story concerns a true-life case of criminal injustice that landed an innocent man in prison for many years. [Potential spoiler alert!] But perseverance eventually pays off, and justice is done after a long wait. It's still hard to consider the message positive on balance, though, considering what the characters endure.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Colin starts as a petty crook and is then wrongfully imprisoned, after which he fights for his freedom for many years and tries to better himself in prison. His best friend, Carl, never gives up the fight -- though he sometimes neglects his own family as a result. Carl's efforts, and those of Colin's wife, Antoinette, represent high ideals of loyalty and loving action. Lead characters are all African-American.

Violence

Frightening but non-graphic prison violence, including a prisoner being beaten by a group of guards. A murder by point-blank gunshot is shown, not graphically. No on-screen bloodshed.

Sex

Two scenes of sensuality, including one involving a newly married couple that contains partial nudity (breasts). Brief bare male backside in a nonsexual prison scene.

Language

Minimal strong language -- less than you might expect from a drama largely set in prison. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crown Heights is an intense drama that largely takes place in a maximum-security prison but isn't as profane or violent as you might expect from that kind of setting. But there is some prison violence (including a prisoner being beaten by a group of guards), as well as partial nudity (breasts) in a sex scene that takes place during a conjugal visit. The movie is based on the true story of a man (played by Lakeith Stanfield of Get Out) who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for years, despite the thinnest of cases against him. Seeing his hope broken down over time could disturb younger viewers, though that's balanced by his perseverance and his friend's unflagging efforts to free him. The movie is likely to spark conversations about the realities of the justice system.

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What's the story?

In 1980, 18-year-old Trinidadian immigrant Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) was jailed for a murder he didn't commit. Without competent representation and undone by an unethical prosecution, Warner was sent to prison for many years. CROWN HEIGHTS dramatizes Warner's long struggle -- and that of his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) -- to clear his name with few resources and in the face of institutional indifference.

Is it any good?

This earnest drama is engaging because the true story it's based on is, but its impact is blunted by what feels like reluctance to "go there." Colin Warner spends many years in a maximum-security prison, including four in solitary, but we see little of the brutality and misery that we later learn he experienced. We guess, from the time they're spending together, that two characters will fall in love, but we don't feel that spark develop. When one of the film's central couples breaks up, it's a mild but not deeply affecting surprise, because we haven't seen the depth of their conflict. Perhaps because the filmmakers worked so closely with the real subjects, these highly charged but sometimes ugly aspects of the story might have been too uncomfortable for the production to explore on-screen. As a result, we're not as emotionally involved as we could be. Plus, there's some heavy-handedness to the direction (use of music, pacing, lighting) that flattens out what should be a rollercoaster of hopes and disappointments.

That's not to say Crown Heights is a slog; it's not. It's just not the gut punch it could be. It will inspire outrage, as it should. As it peels back just how long Warner was incarcerated, the outrage and disgust only grow. In what will be the first time most viewers encounter his acting, NFL All-Pro Asomugha delivers the film's most affecting performance. As Warner's best friend, Carl, he conveys dogged determination and intelligence. When he attributes his devotion to the cause to the unshakable feeling that it could just as easily have been him whose life was arbitrarily taken away by the state, it resonates.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how a person could be sent to prison for a crime he or she didn't commit -- and how the appeals process could fail that person. This will probably be younger viewers' main question about Crown Heights.

  • Why do you think the detectives and the prosecutor behaved the way they did? Are all police and prosecutors "bad" or "good"? What about Colin? Did he change during his time in prison? Do you consider him a role model?

  • How did the movie's violent moments affect you? Did they have more or less impact than what you might see in an action movie? Why do you think that is?

  • Why do you think Colin and his friends were at such a disadvantage legally? Was there a specific factor? Did the movie make it feel like the system was stacked against him (i.e., he was "presumed guilty" rather than "presumed innocent")?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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