The Killing of John Lennon Review
“I was nobody, until I killed the biggest somebody on earth”. After seeing the hallucinatory Killing of John Lennon, with those chilling words still ringing in your ears, you’ll be forced to conclude that Mark Chapman, the man who shot the former Beatle in New York on December 8, 1980, has achieved even greater immortality with this film.
Extensive sections of voiceover in The Killing have been culled straight from the diary of Chapman, played impressively here by Jonas Ball, his real-life counterpart still ensconced in jail after repeated parole hearings. Coupled with director Andrew Piddington’s woozy shooting style and the grainy quality of the film, the overall effect is unsettling. Leaving aside the moral implications of effectively rewarding a murderer with the infamy they crave, the effort to express Chapman’s thoughts, while seldom all that psychologically revealing, is undeniably captivating, irrespective of the inevitability of the killing itself.
One reason for this is that with one important exception, all locations used in this low budget feature are where the real events occurred. In collusion with Chapman’s testimony, it lends a documentary-style inquisition to Piddington’s character study. From Chapman marrying his Japanese-American wife in Honolulu to residing in his cell in Riker Island penitentiary, the viewer follows him through almost every frame and rarely do his thoughts go unexpressed.
Some viewers may question the veracity of a scene in which he chats to two young women outside the Dakota building that Lennon lived in, muttering to himself in anticipation of how they might recall him after the murder – “he seemed so nice!” Yet the many moments in which Chapman recites from The Catcher in The Rye, in its evocation of “phoneys” and his fatal association of these with his analysis of the super-rich, hypocritical Lennon imploring the world to contemplate “no possessions”, seem horribly immediate, anachronistically modern even, in the blurring of celebrity worship and reality. Tellingly, the film uses two pairs of actors for Lennon and Yoko Ono – one for the actual couple, one for Chapman’s imagination.
After taking his decision to kill Lennon, Chapman procrastinates for three months, talking himself out of his initial attempt after seeing Robert Redford’s Ordinary People. Having deserted his wife once more and returned to New York, contemplated killing a gay couple in the room next door and slept with a prostitute, he eventually commits the deed, having arranged his hotel room and a copy of the Bible – he scribbles “Lennon” next to “John” in the New Testament – with a ‘narrative’ for the police and the world to interpret.
The slaying itself, with the vestibule of the Dakota building recreated on a London set and in voyeuristic slow-motion, feels slightly out of kilter with the rest of the film, conspiratorially lingering in marked contrast to otherwise rapid-cut editing. Like the countdown that sporadically appears in the corner of the screen in the days and hours leading up to the murder, it’s undeniably tension-ratcheting. But there’s something disturbing about the manner in which it’s so obviously set apart, framed and conveyed.
The Killing doesn’t end with the killing though and follows the media coverage, Chapman’s incarceration and psychiatric evaluation. Throughout this process, Piddington offers no insight into what made Chapman a psychopath save for a few stock enquiries by a female psychiatrist, the director doubtless keen to avoid the charge of cod-diagnosing, especially with his subject still very much alive. But it makes these final scenes seem somewhat extraneous in a film that already feels too long by dint of so many repeated and revisited shots – symptomatic of Chapman’s mental state perhaps, yet also arguably sadistic, stretching out the plot when Lennon’s demise is anticipated from the start.
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