17 year-old Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) is an apprentice car mechanic in Brooklyn who dreams of being able to go back to his native Trinidad one day. On the side he is a rather unsuccessful petty thief who makes a real hash of stealing cars. However one day he is picked up by the Police and charged with being involved in a murder purely base on the evidence of another teenager Clarence Lewis (Skyan Brooks) who as an alleged eye-witness had identified Colin from a book of mug shots. Lewis was also facing criminal charges for burglary and with the Police desperate to get a conviction in the murder case, he struck his own deal for lenience by agreeing to testify against Colin.
The Prosecution’s case was very weak indeed and full of holes but nevertheless the elderly white Jury still found Colin guilty, alongside the actual murderer who was also convicted. Although Colin was given a 15 year sentence it kept getting extended because of his insistence of maintaining his innocence which always got him into trouble of some kind with the guards or other inmates.
This drama based on a very real life story is in effect the tale of how an innocent man was incarcerated for 20 years because the blatant racist judicial and penal system was heavily weighted against him. Colin had just one thing going for him in the shape of his best friend KC (Nnamdi Asomugha) who refused to give up on him for the next two decades, even to the point of mortgaging his own house to fund yet another expensive lawyer who made little effort to Appeal Colin’s conviction.
After so many rejections KC still pressed forward looking for other legal avenues to explore even when Colin had given up all hope. At least by the time he finally connects with lawyers who will make a difference, Colin who has spent the last few years educating himself, is finally energised to play his part too. Meanwhile he has started seeing his old neighborhood friend Annette (Natalie Paul ) who is not only also a great believer in his innocence, but she ends up falling in love and marrying him which is another boost to his once flagging mind set.
This is a highly emotional tale that has been efficiently squeezed into 98 minutes by writer director Matt Ruskin . Even though Ruskin seemed to be making something of a concerted not to show Colin Warner as a martyr, it is still difficult not to consider him anything less in his battle that was always so heavily weighted against him. Ruskin ends the film with a jubilantly happy Colin finally free, and he chooses not to even touch on how he is compensated for almost a life time behind bars, or the impact that it can, or did have on any other cases of significant injustices.
Stanfield’s Colin is not a showy character and he imbues his very impressive performance with dignity as he tries to keep some sort of control over his resentment when he thinks there is a chance of freedom. Ex professional player Asomugha is extremely convincing as KC the best friend who shares as much of Colin’s suffering as he possible can beyond any call of duty. And Paul as Annette is pitch perfect standing by her man as a sensitive and patient supporter who never once waivers in her belief of his innocence.
The incarceration of so many black men in jail is always a sensitive subject at the best of times, and this excellent re-telling of just one man’s dreadful story will just remind audiences that the need for a real dialogue on this outrageous state of affairs in general, is long overdue.