The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a dread-inducing film. If the title doesn’t immediately give it away, there isn’t hope present in this film. And it’s not meant to be a hopeful story; rather, it’s an honest depiction of a tragic event that feels more culturally apt than it should. Written and directed by David Midell, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain tells the final chapter of its titular character, whose accidental run-in with the police department escalates into a full-on invasion. And despite the release of this film being a year after the Black Lives Matter Protests, its content is based on a real story from ten years ago.
That is the magic of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain. The biographical picture is a mirrored version of what happened on that fateful morning so many years past. The runtime mirrors the actual timeline of events, and the writing mirrors what was recorded over a lifeline alert system. David Midell creates an honest representation of what occurred that is, above all else, topical.
But the film doesn’t just stay with being topical, rather, it strives to highlight the problems with our police systems and dismantle the arguments against reform. This is achieved expertly, through cinematography, editing, score, and performances. Ben Marten, Angela Peel, Enrico Natale, and Steve O’Connell all give stellar performances that carry this film’s message. Sergeant Parks (Steve O’Connell) and Officer Jack (Ben Marten) clash with Rookie Rossi (Enrico Natale) over how they should handle the situation. We witness the mistrust pervasive in the performances of Marten and O’Connell, lending credence to their aggressive actions. And while hope seems to be running out when those officers confront Kenneth Chamberlain, the opposite is true when the Rookie Rossi speaks with Kenneth. Natale radiates youthful optimism and watching that be destroyed by threats of demotion and the removal of agency packs an emotional punch. It’s these interactions that propel the plot forward. But these are all anchored in the magnificent performance by Frankie Faison. There is an art to how Frankie moves, giving emphasis to the struggling nature of the 70-year-old war veteran. And the speech patterns reinforce this, creating a character that is full of courage, amidst the terror of an incoming invasion. And that invasion is horrifyingly realized.
The invasion is impactful, from the first moment to the last. Once the peace that permeates the first 2 seconds of the film is broken, it never returns in the same way. Camrin Petramale’s cinematography achieves this expertly, with tight shots that make the location feel smaller and smaller by the minute. Characters dominate the frame, creating palpable claustrophobia in every moment. And the editing, also done by Enrico Natale, reinforces this, often feeling drawn-out and long, with a soundscape that replaces the beauty and peace of a home with anxiety and foreboding. It’s so well done that this small, 2 location film often felt like a grandiose war movie. And the creation of that illusion is masterful.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain isn’t a fun movie to watch. It’s full of pain and hurt and leaves you feeling helpless. And yet, that helplessness is important, as it makes us aware of what is occurring just beyond the door of someone else’s house.