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The Killing of John Lennon

Film Four Stars

This film covers the key moments in David Chapman's life as he leads up to the assassination of John Lennon, and passing through the court trial to present day.

It's not a documentary though, it re-enacts the events using other people's testimony, and perhaps the most chilling aspect, it uses the actual words of Chapman himself from diary entries, comments and interviews. This is something that continually hits you as you realise that what was just said on screen was what the actual killer said, giving perhaps the closest look at a killer we're likely to see on screen.

There are some seriously chilling moments in the film, mostly when you see those who bump into Chapman do nothing at points when his behaviour might have betrayed him. Yet it's all very well when you sit here watching the film with full knowledge of the events and seeing all the dots being connected, a point that makes it even more unnerving to follow.

The building of tension is done very well and you have a growing feel of dread leading to the event. This is helped along by the time reminder that pops up before each sequence. Not only does it tell you the time and date but it also shows you the time remaining until the killing itself.

This is quite an effective tool, but I would have preferred if it were a bit more consistent, as it did seem to pop up only during later scenes, however that could have been just me not paying attention to the text and absorbed with the story and the visuals.

It's very well filmed using a grainy effect throughout which gives it a raw and almost documentary feel to the movie. At times a wide lens is used and it's here you can see the full use of the space on the screen. Rather than many films which will pour background into the frame, this has tried to use the entire frame to tell the story, and it works well. In certain scenes it lends a voyueristic feel to the film.

It carries an unnerving and quite unsettling feeling throughout, even past the murder itself and onto the prison and court scenes. I thought that these feelings might disperse as soon as the killing had been carried out. So a well done to the filmmakers for keeping me in that frame of mind past that point where many other thrillers just let go.

However there was one moment I wasn't sure worked and I don't mean from a humanity or respect point of view, but from fitting in with the story and keeping the audience engaged. The actual killing itself seems to be out of keeping with the rest of the film. It almost feels as though the film could do without the cinematic recreation of the event and it shown in a more documentary style, or even not at all.

One of the major issues with these sequences is the portrayal of John Lennon himself, there's too much shown and it feels like an amateurish recreation with an almost, but not quite, look-alike. Although they were incredibly powerful moments of the film, the close ups of the Lennon character being shot in slow motion just didn't sit well with the rest of the movie.

The character of Chapman is very cold and chilling, and the actor does a superb job of portraying him. Having no idea of the man himself I was struck by the natural performance and how normal he seems at times, and then during another sequence how cold and detached. Jonas Ball is the actor in question, and he's excellent in the role.

I really liked the fact that the movie didn't end with the murder itself, instead it goes on with Chapman's life until a settled point is reached and we revert to the closing time travelling titles (i.e. Those that say this is where we left the story and this is what has happened to this day). In a way this later part of the film is actually much stronger than the rest, perhaps because it becomes its own film rather than the chronicling of the murder.

Excellent direction from Andrew Piddington, all shot on location except for the shooting scene itself, and a very strong performance from Ball. I just wish that the shooting scene itself had been handled somewhat differently. However, I would thoroughly recommend the film, tough, gritty and chilling to the end.

I wondered as I watched John Hurt, a member of the EIFF Jury this year, walk himself away from the cinema, what he was thinking of that film and how it made him feel as a public star. I would suspect quite vulnerable and more in the public eye than anything before. It certainly made me think this way and how vulnerable we all are, and how easy it is to slide down unnoticed into a state of mind so dark, that such an act is possible.


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Comments

brilliant review. desperately looking for the music listing for this film? they kept playing a requiem just before the shooting scene. can anyone let me know?

Thanks Layna, glad you found it and liked it.

I've no idea about the music, but I've just emailed the producer with the review, so if he pops by maybe he could be kind enough to answer your question.

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