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I Was Nobody Until I Killed The Biggest Somebody On Earth.
On December 8, 1980, outside the Dakota building in New York City, Mark David Chapman went from being a nobody to being world-famous in an instant. Gunning down former Beatle, successful solo artist, and voice of a generation John Lennon, Chapman waited at the scene of the crime for the police to show up. A copy of Catcher in the Rye that he had recently bought was in his possession; in it Chapman had written the words "this is my statement."
Facts of the Case
The Killing of John Lennon is writer/director Andrew Piddington's look into the mind of Mark Chapman, who, at 25 years of age, murdered John Lennon.
Beginning in the months leading up to Lennon's murder, the film opens with Chapman suffering headaches, losing sleep, and enduring troubles with both his wife and mother. After becoming obsessed with the book The Catcher in the Rye, Chapman finds the purpose he has been longing for, when faced with what he sees as the hypocrisy of John Lennon, a rock star with tremendous wealth singing songs about imagining a world with "no possessions."
As his obsession with Lennon grows, Chapman's psyche becomes more twisted, and his first trip to New York City beckons.
Though his first trip to New York results in a change of heart following a viewing of Ordinary People, Chapman cannot undo what he has already set into motion, leading to a second, and final trip. This time, following a vigil outside Lennon's apartment building, Chapman follows through with his plan, killing John Lennon, who, only hours earlier, had signed Chapman's copy of his album Double Fantasy.
On a trip to New York City last Christmas, my wife and I, like most visitors to this modern metropolis, took a stroll through Central Park. Wrapped up in our finest winter coats (man, do those winds get icy), we decided to head over to Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon. On arriving there we were both, perhaps naively, surprised by the sheer number of people in attendance. Some had come to stand quietly and reflect, others took photos of the "Imagine" mosaic, and some had come to lay flowers, while a few even sang Beatles/John Lennon songs; in tribute to their hero. The diversity of the people who had come to pay their respects revealed a man who, regardless of age, religion, or nationality, touched people's lives and continues to do so.
Andrew Piddington's The Killing of John Lennon shows little concern with the impact of Chapman's crime; in fact, his film is barely concerned with John Lennon at all. What captures Piddington's interest and drives his film is Chapman himself and his motivations (no matter how deluded they were) for taking Lennon's life.
Jonas Ball commands the screen as the troubled Chapman. His narration, in use almost constantly as events unfold onscreen, is taken directly from Chapman's diary entries, lending the film an uneasy, but undeniably effective edge. Expressing a desire to find his place in the world and fueled by his narcissism, Chapman is played as a deeply flawed young man, who finds solace in The Catcher in the Rye. Finding some hitherto connection between the book and Lennon, Chapman soon adopts the mantra, "The phony must die, says the catcher in the rye." When repeated over and over, with Ball's chilling stare looking straight at the camera, it makes for a truly unsettling, even haunting, piece of film. Considering Chapman's notoriety, Ball shows a fearlessness and commitment to the role that mark him out as a talent to keep an eye out for.
While The Killing of John Lennon, reflecting Chapman's real life, doesn't give Ball much in the way of a constant companion, Piddington's direction perfectly meshes with his stars' performance. Piddington shot the film at the actual locations Chapman visited on his fateful trip to New York to ensure a sense of reality while employing a hallucinatory shooting style that creates an almost dreamlike state, effectively capturing Chapman's confused mind and keeping the viewer engaged at all times.
Piddington's vision is captured in an intentionally grainy 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film's 5.1 soundtrack blends perfectly with the visuals, ensuring the film has an impressive presentation.
A commentary by Andrew Piddington gives some interesting insights into the thought process that went into the film. Sadly the only other extras on the disc are a few deleted scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Two problems are apparent from watching The Killing of John Lennon. First, with a running time of nearly two hours, the film is a little overlong. Although it's not to the point of tedium, trimming 20 minutes might have made for a more focused film. This is a minor point, though. Piddington's shooting style, coupled with Ball's star turn, makes up for this.
The second problem the film faces should perhaps be of more concern to the filmmakers. It all comes down to the question: Are people, Lennon fans in particular, going to want to watch a movie about the man who killed an icon? While The Killing of John Lennon doesn't ask the viewer to sympathize with Chapman, it is a long, hard look into a dark heart and not necessarily something people will want to see.
An unquestionably brave film, The Killing of John Lennon, due to its subject matter, is likely to struggle to find an audience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Feature Commentary by Writer/Director Andrew Piddington
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