Executive produced by Morgan Freeman and starring Frankie Faison.
Starring the always on point Frankie Faison (The Wire), The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a stark depiction of the 2011 true-life shooting of the African American retired marine. After being mistakenly called to Chamberlain’s New York address in response to a medical alert Chamberlain who suffered from a heart condition and bipolar disorder, was first tasered and then fatally shot by officers because he refused to open the door.
Set in the hours leading up to Chamberlain’s death, the film opens with a timestamp of 5:22 am and the visual of Kenneth lying motionless on his bed before inadvertently pressing his medical alert button, beginning the traumatic chain of events. By 7:00 am Chamberlain would be dead. Writer-director David Midell creates a claustrophobic atmosphere from the start, setting the film within just the cramped confines of the apartment and the hallways outside, and ratches up the tension with the use of handheld camerawork.
Every breath, every emotion, every bead of sweat of Faison’s kick-in-the-gut performance is writ large on the screen to harrowing effect. So much so that The Killing… makes one think about the purpose of film as a medium. Is it to entertain, to move the audience or to educate, to document, to make a change, or all of the above? At just under two hours the film is a taut and blistering watch.
With the passing of each scene, as the police first start with bluster and quickly escalate to using racial epithets and unlawful force to gain entry into Chamberlain’s apartment, making it to the closing credits of the movie requires endurance. We all know how this is going to end. We all know this will tragically happen again. However, as a black audience is it our duty to watch no matter how uncomfortable or triggering it may be? The final visual ends with a close-up of Chamberlain lying pinned down on the floor by numerous officers and being fatally shot.
As an epilogue, Midell employs excerpts of the actual audio recording of Chamberlain’s plaintive requests for the police to leave him alone, followed by the stark caption stating that none of the officers involved in his killing faced criminal charges. We are left bereft, but unfortunately, not surprised.
Without a doubt, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a powerful piece of independent film-making, skilfully blending a docu-realism style with the time-sensitive thriller genre. Deservedly picking up numerous awards, it was made with the support of the victim’s family. In the words of Chamberlain’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., “this film is a stark view of American civil life, and the urgent need for a better understanding of race, mental health, the rights of citizens, better training for officers, and more accountability within our justice system.” Of course, this is a story which needs to be told and is a strong argument for the growing calls for health professionals to be part of response teams. Just prepare yourself before you press play.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain (Cert 15, 81mins) presented by Signature Entertainment will be available on Digital Platforms Monday 9th May.