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Case Number 14628: Small Claims Court

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Chapter 27

Genius Products // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // September 30th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce is trying to imagine that he didn't see this movie.

The Charge

He came to New York to meet John Lennon…and the world changed forever.

The Case

At the center of Chapter 27 is the horribly mistaken notion that the world really wanted to know more about Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon. We may be a culture that loves stories of violent true criminals, but this is a story we aren't ready to see, for a variety of reasons. As a result, it doesn't really matter whether or not Chapter 27 is well-crafted: it will only ever be remembered as a massive and horrific miscalculation of a movie.

In December of 1980, Mark David Chapman (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream) arrives for the second time in New York City, where he hopes to meet John Lennon. Armed with a copy of Catcher in the Rye, Lennon's most recent album, and a revolver, he sets up outside Lennon's apartment and waits. While he waits, he runs into Jude (Lindsay Lohan, I Know Who Killed Me), another fan of Lennon. Chapman's own three-day journey in New York echoes that of Holden Caulfield, but the end is significantly different…

We are drawn to films about assassinations, because the actions in them have meaning, whether or not you agree with the results. JFK became a huge success because the assassination was given the illusion of purpose, and many people are looking forward to Valkyrie, even though it's a story of a failed assassination attempt. In reality, though, Chapman's killing of John Lennon wasn't an assassination, it was a simple murder by an insane fan. Had it been an assassination, the film would have something more to say.

Chapter 27 is able to explore the events surrounding the murder, but it isn't able to dig into Chapman's motivations, a required angle to turn a true event into a compelling film. The answer offered here, that Chapman was crazy and may have thought he was Holden Caulfield, simply isn't enough to hang a film on. The best aspect of the film is definitely the ongoing comparison between Chapman and Holden Caulfield. Chapman tries out lines from Catcher in the Rye on most of the people he meets in New York, but none of them knows how to respond, and so he finds himself frustrated by the people that surround him, much like Holden did on his own fateful journey. Unfortunately, the interest in this comparison wanes early on, and the second half of the film consists of Chapman wandering around the city, spouting bland narration to fill out the rest of the running time. Any time an 84 minute film runs out of steam half-way through, it's a clear indication that there should have been a more solid script to begin with.

The biggest problem with the parallels between Chapman and Caulfield is that Catcher in the Rye no longer has the same significance that it once did. It's become one of the great American novels, no longer seen as a touchstone for teenage rebellion and consolation for dangerous loners. On the other hand, for many people the death of John Lennon is too fresh for this kind of movie. Since one of the reasons Chapman murdered him was to gain his own fame, there are still many who feel we should do all we can to forget Chapman, and that a movie about him will only help him achieve this goal.

Of course, none of this has to do with the quality of the film itself. The highlight is Jared Leto's performance as Chapman. While his odd accent is inexplicable, he put on 60 pounds to do the role, and his transformation really is impressive. The support performances are also reasonably solid, though none of them stands out. It's a shame that this cast wasn't in a more entertaining film.

The cinematography faces similar problems. While on the whole the film is competently shot, many moments feel rushed and sloppy. Too many shots are used to simply show how much weight Leto gained, and there are just as many designed to show how creepy Chapman is. At one point, a long handheld POV shot is used, and we think we're seeing things from Chapman's perspective, but then he walks into the frame. There is simply too much posturing here, and not enough thought.

Genius has assembled a perfectly passable DVD release here. While the only extra is a short production featurette, the video and sound transfer are both fine. For a low budget film, the black levels and natural-looking film grain are impressive, and there's nothing wrong with the dialogue-heavy Dolby 5.1 track.

It's really hard to tell what the producers of Chapter 27 wanted to accomplish. It doesn't validate Chapman's actions, but it also doesn't explain them. On the inside of the cover of his copy of Catcher in the Rye, Chapman writes: "this is not a statement." This is the most tragic thing of all: that John Lennon died at the hands of someone who silenced a genius but had nothing to say himself. Lennon's death was a complete waste, and Chapter 27 isn't any better. It tells us the story of what happened but—just like Mark David Chapman—it has no purpose. Lennon's memory deserves better.

A great performance aside, Chapter 27 is sentenced to life without parole.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 40

Perp Profile

Studio: Genius Products
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Bad
• Biographical
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Production Featurette


• IMDb
• Official Site

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