"Powerful Drama About Correcting an Injustice"
What You Need To Know:
CROWN HEIGHTS is an emotionally powerful, redemptive, well-acted drama. Lakeith Stanfield does an excellent job as Colin. The movie has a light Christian worldview. It promotes sticking by a friend and a dedication to seeing justice done. The end credits feature a poetic song about salvation through Jesus. However, CROWN HEIGHTS is marred by gratuitous foul language, three gratuitous bedroom scenes and brief nudity. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
(C, BB, Ro, FR, PC, LL, VV, SS, NN, M) Light Christian, redemptive worldview overall with strong moral elements stressing dedication to justice about a man wrongfully convicted and serving 21 years in prison for second-degree murder, but man bears no hatred to those who put him in prison or who lied or who were forced to lie to incarcerate him, one or two positive references to God during the telling of the story, and a song heard over the end credits includes Gospel-oriented lyrics featuring talk about sin and being cleansed of sin, baptism references, and a line urging a son to “surrender to the good Lord, and he’ll wipe your slate clean” is followed with appeals to the Lord,” mixed with some light Romantic and antinomian elements and brief politically correct liberal sentiments against tougher mandatory sentences and capital punishment featuring clips of President Reagan, the first President Bush and President Clinton; 20 obscenities (slightly over half are “f” words), one strong profanity featuring Jesus, and one light profanity; brief strong and light violence includes gunshot is heard, body of murdered man lies on ground, man loads a gun, prison guards beat up a convict after he struck one of them, convict knocks down a guard and punches him at least twice after a guard won’t let him say goodbye over the telephone to his beloved grandmother in Jamaica who raised him, brief newsreel images of street riots; brief depicted fornication in one scene (a conjugal visit in a prison), previous fornication is implied when teenage boy kisses girlfriend lying in bed and then sneaks out of her house, and vaguely implied fornication in another apparent conjugal visit in prison; brief upper female nudity one fornication scene, images of upper male nudity in other scenes, and images of rear male nudity as convicts are sprayed with a pesticide powder to kill lice and potential lice; no alcohol use; no smoking or drugs; and, man is unjustly and falsely convicted of being an accessory to murder, perjury, police detective rushes to convict a man falsely, movie says police detective used wrongful interrogation methods to force young witnesses to commit perjury, some unfair treatment of convicts in prison, and judicial system keeps innocent man in jail using technicalities, but it’s all resolved positively in the end due to perseverance, dedication to justice, friendship, and family support.
Based on a true story, CROWN HEIGHTS is about a young 18-year-old black man in Brooklyn who was wrongly convicted as an accessory to a murder and spent 21 years in prison until his brother-in-law and friend could finally get the judicial system to recognize his innocence.
CROWN HEIGHTS is a powerful, redemptive, well-acted social drama, but it is marred by some gratuitous foul language, three bedroom scenes and explicit nudity in one scene that will prevent it from gaining the audience it might otherwise deserve.
CROWN HEIGHTS opens with 18-year-old Colin Warner, a descendent of Jamaican parents living in Brooklyn with his mother and sister. Training to be an auto mechanic, young Colin is also a sometime car thief. While he accidentally crashes a stolen car driving away from the scene of the crime, a gunshot rings out near the local high school. Later that night, he’s carrying the family’s little TV set back from the repair shop. In an alley, two police detectives pull up and arrest Colin.
Colin’s charged with the drive-by murder of the man who was shot dead earlier in the day. Because it’s a murder, he’s held without bail. Eventually, the case goes to trial, where a witness identifies Colin as the driver of the car but identifies a 15-year-old teenager as the shooter. Colin gets a friendly lawyer to represent him, but the lawyer loses the case, partly because of the testimony of another teenager and the victim’s teenage brother, who apparently lies about having seen Colin hanging around his brother. Also, Colin could provide no solid evidence he was actually somewhere else at the time of the murder. So, after the jury foreman reads the guilty verdict, the judge gives Colin 15 years to life and gives the actual murderer, a juvenile, nine years to life.
The lawyer agrees to appeal the case. At one point, he even gets the teenage witness to recant his testimony about identifying Colin as the driver of the car. However, the district attorney’s office and the main detective who handled the case argue persuasively that the witness is just recanting his testimony to be kind to Colin or because he’s a friend of Colin.
It seems like Colin might be stuck in prison his entire life. However, his real friend, who eventually becomes his brother-in-law, keeps working on Colin’s case. He even becomes a process server to learn the judicial system better. Eventually, the brother-in-law decides he should investigate the case himself.
CROWN HEIGHTS is an emotionally powerful, well-acted drama. Lakeith Stanfield does an excellent job as Colin.
Part of the movie involves the difficulty Colin had in adjusting to prison life. At first, Colin befriends the leader of the other prisoners whose background is in the West Indies, but the leader is into some illegal activities. So, Colin has to disassociate himself from the man, but this means he has to fend for himself when dealing with other prisoners and with the guards who enjoy lording over and tormenting the convicts. This results in Colin getting angry with one particular guard and punching him. After getting a secret beating for this, Colin has to serve two years in solitary, and this event hurts his chances of getting paroled after he’s served the minimum 15 years.
CROWN HEIGHTS obviously intends to shine a light on the problems that the urban poor in America have in navigating the judicial system, especially poor minorities, in this case African-Americans. It also notes at the end that about 120,000 of the prison inmates in America, about 6% of the prison population, are probably innocent. According to a news report on the website the Gothamist about Colin’s case, a University of Michigan study found that about 2.3% to 5% of American prison inmates (51,000 to 110,000 prisoners) are probably innocent. Whether 51,000 or 120,000, however, it’s the responsibility of America’s citizens, including of course jury members, police officers, lawyers, and judges, to make sure that the guilty are punished, that the innocent are freed, that suspects and prisoners get their full legal rights and proper treatment, and that crime victims get true justice.
Judging by the movie, it is most likely that the filmmakers would agree with this last sentence. Although the movie clearly decries the bad treatment Colin received, at one point it also makes the statement that Colin’s story is so tragic because it’s clear that most of the other prisoners are definitely responsible for their plight in being imprisoned, but Colin is not. Even better, at the end of the movie, a clip of the real Colin coming out of prison shows Colin saying he bears no hatred for any of the people whose actions, intentional or unintentional, resulted in the injustices committed against him. Best of all, the end credits include a song with some powerful, poetic lyrics that overtly present the salvation that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some of the lyrics to the song, titled “River” and performed by Leon bridges:
In my darkness, I remember
Momma’s words reoccur to me
“Surrender to the good Lord
And, He’ll wipe your slate clean”
Take me to your river
I wanna go
Oh, go on
Take me to your river
I wanna know
Tip me in your smooth waters
I go in
As a man with many crimes
Come up for air
As my sins flow down the Jordan
Take me to your river
I wanna go
Lord, please let me know
Take me to your river
I wanna know
Despite the positives in CROWN HEIGHTS, the movie does contain some strong foul language. It’s also marred by three bedroom scenes. In the first one, Colin’s future brother in law is shown kissing Colin’s sister in bed after an implied rendezvous involving fornication. In two other scenes, Colin enjoys conjugal visits with his future wife. The first of these includes depicted fornication and brief upper female nudity. The second one only implies fornication. The above immoral content is almost totally and completely gratuitous. It also earned the movie an R rating. Consequently, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for CROWN HEIGHTS. If the movie had deleted or revised most of this content and included more positive Christian references in the rest of the movie besides just the end credits, MOVIEGUIDE® could have given CROWN HEIGHTS a much more positive review. See our proprietary CONTENT section for more details.