A non-judgmental re-creation of 25-year-old Mark David Chapman’s 1980 assassination of the peacenik pop star—from three months prior to the act to his subsequent incarceration—director Andrew Piddington’s fastidiously researched, dubiously suspenseful character portrait is unable to salvage a lick of hindsight from the tragedy beyond “Murderous narcissists are people, too.” (He’s a victim of our celebrity-fixated culture? Oh, shut up.)
In The Killing of John Lennon, Piddington traces Chapman’s exact steps—shooting at the Dakota and everywhere else the killer went leading up to the big day—and uses only Chapman’s documented utterances and prison-diary narration, flaunting this strict authenticity as if readying a defense against cries of exploitation.
If Piddington’s baffling sincerity occasionally trumps his flashy optical effects, it’s only because star Jonas Ball is so credibly complicated as the Salinger-obsessed killer, even while gazing eerily into the camera or repeating himself in front of a mirror. Chapman’s a Travis Bickle for tabloid junkies, the on-screen titles that mark his countdown till the titular act a damning clue into the film’s tasteless sensationalism.
Considering that Chapter 27—starring Jared Leto as Chapman—is due out in March, it’s hard not to think about the trio of made-for-TV Amy Fisher biopics that aired within weeks of one another in the early ’90s. Who is the audience here, besides depraved Beatles completists?