At once a mainstream and experimental film, The Killing of John Lennon traps itself (and the audience) inside the warped psyche of culture-assassin Mark David Chapman, keeping the camera on him pretty much from start to credits. Only his on-the-record words are used as dialogue, as his aimless obsession with outing 'phoneys' and seeking notoriety leads him all the way from Honolulu, Hawaii to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he will collide with history by blowing away John Lennon. Making Chapman interesting proves to be a tall order, since his murder of Lennon is generally accepted as having no political or other external motivation -- only the motivation derived from his own diseased mind. Is watching a crazy person rant and rave entertaining? Sure, it can be, but The Killing of John Lennon is only marginally entertaining, dragging on too long for its own good and continuing past the logical stopping point -- the killing -- and moving into Chapman's introduction to prison life, where his only joy will be playing pointless cat-and-mouse games with his analysts.
As played by newcomer Jonas Ball, Chapman is a highly functioning sociopath who see-saws back and forth between lucid, on-point observations and hateful, juvenile blather about feeling betrayed. Early on he says: "I don't think one should devote oneself to morbid self-attention. One should try to be a person like other people." Then, presumably with mental illness creeping in, he ignores his own advice and begins to vocalize a childish hatred of Lennon derived from a selective reading of his song lyrics. "He told us to imagine no possessions -- but he has yachts and country estates," he says, not bothering to take this internal debate any further before condemning Lennon to death. Chapman's mind eventually focuses on Salinger's infamous book The Catcher in the Rye, engaging with it almost like Jim Carrey in The Number 23 -- as if the book was written specifically with him in mind, and acting out its plot in the real world will somehow unlock some higher plane of reality. In other words, Chapman is a nut who wasn't diagnosed before he was allowed to act out.p>Boxing himself into Chapman's mind proves to be a strange choice for director Andrew Piddington to have made with this film, especially considering that Piddington has revealed in public talks that he has no regard for Chapman and declined to attempt any meeting with him before making the film. If that's the case, why center a film around his paranoid ravings and the destruction they eventually caused? There's so little room for anyone else in this story that lookalike stand-ins, not actors, are used to play John Lennon and Yoko Ono. We see them only as they arrive late at night in a limo on December 8, 1980, thinking they are in for a quiet evening. They have no dialogue and Lennon is only seen out of shadow once or twice, after he's been shot and is bleeding on the ground. Before the shooting, there's also an extended riff between Chapman and a photographer who has anchored himself to the spot where Lennon usually walks by, hoping to get a picture, but Chapman's demeanor is normal enough that no alarm bells are raised.
After the shooting, the film picks up a little as Chapman is taken into custody and the police are forced to take measures to prevent a "Jack Ruby" situation. Chapman is zipped up into a bulletproof vest -- two of them, actually -- and hurdled from station to station as the news media begins to devote themselves fully to covering first the shooting itself, and then the outpouring of grief and the congregation around Strawberry Fields. We later see Chapman engaging in a pointless sparring match with a psychiatrist who has come to evaluate him in his tiny holding cell, but the reaction she has to his weirdo smugness is the same one the film's audience will have -- a combination of the boredom that comes from having to indulge a loser's deranged fantasy idea of himself and a general sense of annoyance at having our world so profoundly affected by that loser's whim. The Killing of John Lennon is a film that has one subject and one subject only -- Chapman's mind. Unfortunately, that's a very limited and tedious subject.