Tag Archives: brooklyn

Review: ‘Crown Heights’

dfn-crown-heights-300A unique sound effect buried within the score of Matt Ruskin’s new film Crown Heights is an electronic feedback loop or sort of white noise that permeates the soundtrack, echoing the wall of obfuscation and deafness that befalls Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) as he’s sent away for a murder he didn’t commit. It’s a small detail, but one that provides the film with a strong sense of purpose on just about every level as it weaves a compelling story about justice gone horribly wrong.

Based on a true story, Crown Heights begins in 1980 in a section of Brooklyn reeling from a previous year’s worth of homicides and crime that would literally send parts of the city into crumbling ruins. After a young man is shot, Warner, a local Trinidadian resident, is arrested and ultimately charged for the murder along with another man. Railroaded by the cops and district attorney’s office with a feeble and largely concocted case, Stanfield portrays Warner with a complex performance as a man initially fighting his incarceration, but ultimately giving into his confinement, both mentally and physically.

Most stories end there. However, in Warner’s case, his guardian angel resides in his childhood friend, KC King (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Crown Heights slowly shifts its focus onto King’s resilient fight outside the prison walls. While we do stay somewhat involved with Warner — including his marriage to childhood friend Antoinette (Natalie Paul) and his pursuit of a GED — Crown Heights becomes a dogged pursuit of reclaimed justice, even when the whole world has forgotten and moved on.

King, to the detriment of his own family, spends the next 20 years (yes, 20 years) pounding the pavement, collecting money and falling short with more inept lawyers before he eventually finds a willing partner in William Robedee (played by brilliant character actor Bill Camp). With this determined pair, the wheels of justice move slowly, but at least they’re moving.

If Crown Heights feels cliched in its execution, it’s only because the example of judicial breakdown has repeated itself so many times in American history, and the idea of wrongful imprisonment is continually ripe for cinematic magnification. Filmmakers love to spotlight social injustices, and Colin Warner’s case situates itself perfectly for the big screen.

Ruskin’s film (which he also wrote) succeeds against this cliche because of its magnificent performances and compact visual style that gives clarity to the confusing paper trail of old witnesses and half-remembered revisionist history. I can’t imagine a more damning piece of human frailty then when, confronted by King and another witness, a young man who made up part of his testimony slumps in his chair and mutters, “…. that man is still in there?”

Contrast that with Warner’s repeated mantra of “don’t make this a cell” and Crown Heights becomes more of an interior psychological film about mind over constricting matter than anything else. That Warner (through an Oscar worthy performance by Stanfield) refuses to believe in his box only makes his story that much more heartbreaking once the sunlight of freedom hits his face.

Crown Heights opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, September 1 at several locations, including the Dallas Angelika, AMC Grapevine Mills 30, AMC Parks at Arlington 18 and AMC Mesquite 30.

Review: ‘Little Men’

dfn-little_men-300The beauty of youth is not knowing any better.

Jake, 13 years old, doesn’t know any better, so when his grandfather dies, it doesn’t really affect him. Or so he believes in Ira Sachs’ Little Men, which soon enough reveals that Jake’s life will be changed profoundly by the death of the old stranger.

At first, the changes affect Jake (Theo Taplitz) in a minimal way. Sure, his grandfather’s death means that Jake and his parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy Jardine (Jennifer Ehle), move from their home in Manhattan to his grandfather’s comfortable brownstone in Brooklyn, a big change that would phase most people. Jake, though, is an introverted kid; he’s content to draw and paint and observe. In fact, the move is a good thing for him, in that he easily gains a new best friend.

Tony Cavelli (Michael Barbieri) is as outgoing as Jake is shy. Friendly and boisterous, Tony quickly warms to Jake — hey look! Another kid! My age, too! –and the two spend as much time together as possible. Their friendship is facilitated by proximity; Tony is the son of Leonor Cavelli (Paulina Garcia), who runs a dress shop located on the ground floor of the Jardine’s brownstone.

Leonor is reticent and cool toward the Jardine family, probably because she can anticipate what will eventually happen. Indeed, after the family has settled into their new routine, and Brian has had some time to deal with natural grief about the loss of his father, Brian sits down with his sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) and is forced to realize that Leonor has been paying rent that is far below the commercial market rate.

Brian is a struggling actor and none too successful in financial terms. Kathy is a doctor who has accepted that she must cover all the family’s monetary responsibilities. They simply cannot afford to cover their expenses and also give Leonor a huge break on her rent. To further intensify the pressure, Audrey feels entitled to some of the financial benefits that Brian received from inheriting the brownstone …

And so, inevitably, the gnawing pressures eat away at the tentative protective net the parents have thrown over their children, and so the children discover, quite to their surprise and horror, that they must share in paying the price for an intractable situation.

Little Men displays a remarkable lightness of touch, never becoming heavy-handed, even as certain pressures become oppressive. ‘This, too, shall pass’ appears to be the even-handed tone established by director/cowriter Ira Sachs and cowriter Mauricio Zacharias when it comes to their story and characters. When unkind words emerge, they’re never hurled without evident purpose on the part of the filmmaker. The truth can hurt, and couching it in kindness doesn’t lessen its sting.

Rare and refreshing, Little Men is gently spellbinding and refreshing for the soul.

Little Men opens at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano on Friday, August 26.