I had just moved from Germany to Langley, Virginia, when the case of Kenneth Chamberlain became national news. I remembered I was upset by the events leading up to his death at the hands of the Police. 2021 has opened the eyes of many Americans to Police brutality and excessive use of force in cases that don’t call for it. However, when it came time to review writer/director David Midell’s film The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, there was apprehension because I didn’t want to put myself in that traumatized state, having to relive the events of Chamberlain’s death. “Who is this movie for?” is a question that looped through my mind while watching. While I couldn’t make up my mind regarding that question, I can say that Frankie Faison illuminates an otherwise empty, hollow film.
Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. (Frankie Faison) was a 68-year-old Marine Corps veteran who suffered from physical and mental health problems and kept an alert device around his neck for emergencies. When accidentally triggering the alert, three police officers Rossi (Enrico Natale), Jackson (Ben Marten), and Talbot (Christopher R. Ellis), came to his home to do a wellness check. Despite Chamberlain’s statements to the Police that he was fine and pushed the button by accident, they insisted on coming in anyway. Because the officers couldn’t get access to his apartment, they created imaginary scenarios in their heads that the man was up to no good. After a standoff of sorts, and a call for backup, the cops broke down Chamberlain’s door and fatally shot him. At least that’s how it unfolds in the film.
Midell’s script has the three cops fill in the blanks as the story is told from their vantage point. Their view of Chamberlain is skewed because the film paints Chamberlain as a man having a mental episode instead of a man who simply doesn’t want strangers in his house. One could ask why didn’t Chamberlain comply, but the Police had no warrant or probable cause to enter. The only peacemaker in the film is officer Rossi, who is seen as the “good egg” of the group who tries to deescalate the aggression on both sides. By this point, I have more questions about this film than answers: does Rossi represent a white savior trope, or did this cop try to deescalate the situation in real life?
It’s so challenging to tell stories like this. Directing and writing it is undoubtedly a bold yet noble choice. The problem is that the film creates a lot of doubt because the narrative is too thin for the audience to decide what rings true to them. Then again, this is a character-based story, and what works for it is the stunning performance by Frankie Faison.
Faison has spent nearly 50 years in entertainment. From television, film, and theater, he has done it all. With roles in heavy-hitting films like Do The Right Thing and Coming to America and television shows like The Wire, he’s shown the versatility of his range. In The Killing, the actor commands the screen and holds the audience’s full and undivided attention. He is unafraid to deep dive into and tap into the anguish and torture of a man like Kenneth Chamberlain. This performance won an award for Outstanding Lead Performance at the Gotham awards for a reason. An acknowledgment that is beyond past due and deserved. Faison is a leading man material and deserves more opportunities to showcase what he can do.
What I just can’t get over is: what is the purpose? Not all films have to have one, but the reasons need to be clear-cut when tackling socio-political subjects like this. Is Midell trying to educate? But educate who? One can look to social media or google to get education. Is it entertainment? Well, watching a man get harassed by the Police isn’t entertaining, so it can’t be that. The story doesn’t have a strong stance on anything. Things are happening, but what is the message? All it does is keep the film from being emotionally compelling. If for nothing else, Frankie Faison will blow the audience away with the work he’s putting in.
Overall, Many people will identify with and be touched by The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain as film. Unfortunately, I’m just not one of those people.