David Midell’s The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, out now on stream, is not an enjoyable film.
It is, however, a compelling one. The film grabs your attention and forces you to watch this tragedy play out, all the while you pray that somehow the ending doesn’t come. Like a Passion Play, the viewer knows what is in store. Nothing can change what is about to unfold as Kenneth Chamberlain (Frankie Faison) finds himself in his own garden at Gethsemane.
Based on actual events, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain covers the last hours of the elderly marine veteran. After accidentally setting off his medical alert alarm, Chamberlain is woken by three White Planes police conducting a wellness check. Chamberlain, already ill and with mental health problems impacted by the side effects of his heart medication, refuses to open his door and asks the police to leave. Unwilling or unable to let things lie, the cops escalate the situation, first out of fear for Chamberlain, then fear of him. As newbie Officer Rossi (Enrico Natale) tries to find a peaceful way to end this, bigoted Officer Jackson (Ben Marten) is ready to end this in any way possible. At the same time, their sergeant (Tom McElroy) is helpless in the centre. All building to the film’s horrific conclusion.
With Morgan Freeman as executive producer and the subject matter, Chamberlain was not going to be an easy film to watch. Another film might have started with Chamberlain’s death at the hands of the cops and then followed the family’s fight for justice, which continues to this day. But, Midell’s choice to focus instead on Chamberlain’s last hour makes us unwilling participants in this brutal event. The viewer witnesses every misunderstanding, every attempt to de-escalate the situation that gets blown out of the water by impatience or anger. The cinematography creates the feeling that we are bystanders to this, peaking from around the corner of the hallway or at the back of the room before smash cutting to Chamberlain’s face when experiencing sensory overload. It becomes more and more claustrophobic and unbearable in its framing as it does with its content.
Faison’s portrayal of Chamberlain is a masterclass in naturalistic acting that manages to capture both the frightened older man and angry man who, rightly so, doesn’t trust the cops and so desperately wants to be left alone. That said, Natale and Marten are more two dimensional, feeling more like caricatures than the actual people involved. They’re stilted at times, going through the motions or sounding like they are reading a transcript.
This might be because Midell rejected the official police report of the event. Instead focusing on the eyewitness accounts from Chamberlain’s family and neighbours, and used the coroner’s report, which also rejected the police’s official report.
Horrific in its content, painful to watch, and powerful in its message, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a film that needs to be watched, discussed, and then watched again.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is out now on all digital platforms.