Those viewers looking for all the disquieting content that an On Demand purchase can buy will be drawn to this profile of Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s notorious assassin. For no genre has brought us closer to the psychokiller than the character study, though the police thriller has brought us close. All the introspection in “Silence of the Lambs” dims next to that appearing in John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (completed in 1986 but released in 1990), which reveals the power of the disturbing character study by capturing a psychopath’s everyday. The killer becomes most terrifying once he’s been humanized.
We have all the more curiosity about a dramatization of Chapman, who managed to down a cultural fountainhead. But with this personality at center stage, there’s not much character to study. Granted, one could argue that capturing Chapman’s numb existence should be just the point, but in this case the interest doesn’t go much deeper than the crime itself. As disturbing as it may be at times, this film attempts to dig into barren grounds.
The killer is played by newcomer Jonas
Bell Ball, a poor man’s Mark Ruffalo. As his character haunts the locales of Hawaii, Ball’s deliberate stare suggests an unsure performance instead of the torment the film strives for. Chapman discovers his murderous obsession through a Beatles book in a library, where he also comes across Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” which becomes something of a textbook to fuel Chapman’s megalomania. His obsession with the novel is so intense that he’s soon quoting Holden Caulfield blindly and making the maddest connections between the character’s life and his own. Caulfield’s desire to rid the world of all the “phonys” proves to be a dark inspiration. In his mania, Chapman neglects his poor soul of a wife and soon abandons her to find Lennon in New York. “Killing” pulls off a feat by using all original locations in Hawaii and Manhattan, including the Dakota apartments, and the film sticks to Chapman’s testimony for his voiceover – which, despite the filmmaker’s personal statement, is at times redundant to the onscreen action.
Writer-director Andrew Piddington has an eye for composition, as his set-ups suggest Chapman’s isolation in everyday surroundings. The visual style seems fitting, until Ball faces straight to the camera and Piddington launches into overly stylized flourishes of camerawork. These bursts, which show up at random, seem out to manipulate us with diversion instead of investigating Chapman, the film’s real duty. The story inherits a sense of doom as Chapman reaches Manhattan to approach his target, though we hardly need Lennon’s death scene after all the build-up. As the narrative lugubriously sticks to the documented events, we are served nothing more than a filmed transcript.