The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain recounts the real-life tragedy in a way that closes the door on all hopes that this could have gone right. Nothing does, and it is in those close moments of taut, horrific tension where director David Midell and actor Frankie Faison find truth in retrospect. You wish it was not true. That’s where The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain digs at your memory. That’s also where it loses its own sight.
In the early hours of November 11, 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. in White Plains, N.Y. removed his medical alert piece from his neck like anyone of use would wiggle their fingers under the bedsheet. Here, it was not without consequences. His LifeAid service was immediately activated asking him if he needed any assistance.
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Receiving no response, the call was transferred to the police station to take a welfare check. Within the next two hours, Chamberlain is dead. Chamberlain had bipolar disorder and he was black. Cut straight to 2020, with the murder of George Floyd and Brennona Tyler, and you have it- police brutality rounded in a decade.
Midell’s dramatizes the last hour in Chamberlain without loading any other theatrics to it – he understands the subject matter and respects it- remaining truthful to the unity of time, place, and action. At a modest runtime of 83 minutes, Midell who also wrote the script, makes every second count, in recounting the conflict that led to the fatal shooting of a man who really wanted to be left alone. In Frankie Faison, Midell has found his protagonist- who takes the movie several notches higher its potential.
A theatre thespian, Faison internalizes Chamberlain with immense restraint, threading together the inner conflict in the way he moves his shoulders, or watches mostly downwards. While accelerating the chain of events, he becomes the suspect to three policemen Rossi (Enrico Natale), Jackson (Ben Marten), and Talbot (Christopher R. Ellis). Chamberlain’s desperation leads him paralyzed and scared, unable to realize the turn of events so fast.
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Despite his repeated responses and requests to the Police that he is doing just fine and does not require any further assistance, the police officers believe something’s not right. The entire sequence lasts a considerable amount of time, and even though it creates a tight, atmospheric pressure to the proceedings, it manages to be underpinned by its own tricks. The dialogues here are too shakey and half-baked, and Camrin Petramale’s lens adds little to the scenes other than those tight closeups and steady shots that become heavy-handed after a while.
This is exactly where The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain stumbles- in its heightened awareness of the proceedings that took place, there is little to no creative flourish that tries to ask why. The loud and often irregular sounds by Garrett Beelow and King Luck distract and become unnecessary after a while- given so much is already happening at such a microcosmic space. The concern is the same with Enrico Natale’s editing choices- that disorient when it does not count- impacting the restraint that could have been achieved.
What sets the ball rolling is thanks to a particularly raw performance by Faison, who really digs into the troubled soul of a man fighting his own demons all by himself. In Faison’s eyes, The Death of Kenneth Chamberlain finds its unforgettable moments of terror and heartbreak. Look at the way he holds onto different things in his room- exuding terror without facing it.
The problem with The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain lies in the very concept- it’s stagey and too stubborn in its retelling. Yes, it is important to tell this story, but how- just in creating a willing disregard to the facts and creating suspense around it? The title, we know will come true, so retract that experience through the lens of a suspense thriller?
Even though much of Midell’s choices are effective, it somehow lacks that potent sense of cultural disregard for the tragedy itself- something as sensitive and deliberate as it is. There’s a palpable sense of claustrophobic tension that adds up to the tension, somehow killing any further link with the Black community that permeates this space. Regardless, this is a story that demands to be seen.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain Cast -Frankie Faison, Steve O’Connell, Enrico Natale, Ben Marten, Angela Peel