Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2008)
Almost 28 years after the tragic murder of John Lennon, his assassin becomes the topic of two separate flicks Ė both distributed by the same company! That may be overkill, though Iíll have to reserve judgment on the higher-profile Chapter 27 until I see it.
That leaves the bluntly-titled The Killing of John Lennon as todayís subject. The story starts three months prior to the December 1980 murder. We meet future assassin Mark David Chapman (Jonas Ball) at home in Hawaii. We observe his precarious mental state as he moves toward his decision to assassinate Lennon so he can slay various mental demons.
A certain faction of Beatles fans refuses to acknowledge Chapman by name. They rationalize that Chapman killed to achieve fame Ė among other motives - and they prefer not to give that notoriety to him. I can understand that point of view to a degree, but I think the catís out of the bag. Referring to Chapman by some pseudonym doesnít negate the dark fame he already earned or reverse events.
That said, films about his life make me a bit uncomfortable. A project like this will probably either be a cartoon psycho story or it will serve to humanize its subject, and Iím not sure I want the latter to occur. Some folks perform actions so heinous they forfeit their right to be humanized, and that may apply to Chapman.
In reality, Killing neither makes Chapman a cartoon nutbag nor a believable, realistic character. It occupies a dull netherworld in which not much of interest happens, at least not until Chapman executes Lennon. For its first 80 minutes or so, Killing meanders and inundates us with artsy pretensions.
Then the titular murder occurs Ė in a graphic manner Ė even though more than 30 minutes of movie remain. Some viewers criticized the decision not to end the flick where one might expect and continue after the apparently climactic murder. It does seem like an odd choice, but I must admit that the 30 minutes or so after Lennonís slaying provide the most compelling parts of the movie. They offer a glimpse at the aftermath of the killing and what happened to Chapman. The flick takes on a somewhat documentary feel for that time.
Which is probably the approach it always should have been. An in-depth documentary about Chapman and all facets of Lennonís assassination would likely work pretty well. Unfortunately, this dramatization of the events falters most of the time. Even the final half-hour sputters; it improves on the first 80 minutes, but the film remains flawed.
It becomes very tough for Killing to dig itself out of the whole it creates during those initial 80 minutes. Much of the movie just goes with all sorts of slow-motion, quick cuts and other stylized techniques to put us in Chapmanís mindset. However they just seem self-conscious and distracting, and they never offer any psychological depth. We get a dime-store take on a madman without real introspection and value.
We do find all sorts of overwhelming pretensions, though. Do we really need a shot of Chapman shouting into the camera with the sound of a lion overdubbed? Ball relentlessly overacts in the part and seems like little more than a nerdy version of Travis Bickle.
Speaking of whom, Killing really wears its Taxi Driver influence on its sleeve. The film makes references to that movie as well as related others like Raging Bull. These references come across as cheap and thoughtless. I get the impression the director probably thinks heís being clever, but they simply serve to make the comparisons all the more obvious, and they donít flatter the rambling Killing.
As I write this, Iíve not yet listened to the commentary from director Andrew Piddington, so Iíll be curious to hear his justification for the bloody manner in which the movie depicts Lennonís murder. I find it hard to imagine any explanation will make much sense to me, though. I feel that the graphic visuals exist to titillate the audience, not to serve the story.
I imagine the filmmakers featured the bloody images to accentuate the movieís sense of realism. Oh, they flaunt their attempts at realism up front with title cards that tell us the film was shot on location and only uses Chapmanís real words. Perhaps all of this does facilitate the factual accuracy of the tale, but the shooting remains too bloody, and all the realism in the world wonít make this dull, meandering piece any more interesting. Killing creates a boring, fairly pointless psychological drama.