On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon dead outside the Dakota Hotel. Not much is known about Lennon's assailant, but Chapter 27, a new movie by Jarrett Schaefer starring Jaret Leto as Chapman, tries its best to get into the killer's head. A big deal had been made about the amount of weight the normally rail-thin Leto put-on to play the part, following in the method acting footsteps of De Niro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, but little else is known about the film, which is why many journalists and critics jumped on the early screening tonight at the Holiday Village. (The movie premieres at the festival on Thursday night at the Eccles.)
Those with high expectations for Chapter 27 may be slightly disappointed by the deliberately slow and subdued tone of the film, but also by how little of Chapman's life leading up to the shooting is covered. As the camera is kept trained on Leto's Chapman for the entirety of the film, it only really deals with the few days after his arrival in New York City leading up to the shooting. It's quite jarring the first time you see Leto, who is almost unrecognizable with his added weight and Roy Orbison glasses. Just to make sure no one thinks that this look was done with make-up or camera trickery, Schaefer includes many scenes of Chapman shirtless to Leto's new full-figured physique is prominently on display.
A few other characters show up, mainly as Chapman waits impatiently outside the Dakota Hotel for his hero to come out, the most prominent one being Lindsay Lohan as fellow Beatles fan Jude Stein, who makes friends with Chapman but gets scared off by his unstable demeanor. He also has a few encounters with Paul Goresh, a photographer played by Judah Friedlander who hopes to get pictures of Lennon to sell.
Even if you've never heard of Chapman (i.e. you're under the age of 16), it's obvious that he's not quite right, as the film is narrated mostly from the voices in his head as they make suggestions what he should do. His daily stalking of his idol seems innocent at first, merely wanting a copy of "Double Fantasy" autographed, but there's more at work inside this deranged man's head, as seen by his equal obsession with Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye."
Sadly, we really don't know what it is that drove him to kill Lennon--maybe he was hoping that the signed record he got would be more of a collector's item with Lennon dead?--and Chapter 27 doesn't make too much of an effort to try to enlighten us. It's commendable how Schaeffer took the well-documented facts leading up to the shooting and created this portrait, though the way things are shown almost verbatim may also be one of the fim's biggest faults. For instance, seeing Chapman encounter Sean Lennon and his nanny in Central Park mere hours before shooting Sean's father borders on the surreal, yet it's known to have happened.
The actual shooting takes place in a matter of seconds and after a bit of news footage and man-on-the-street interviews, the movie is over, never really answering the questions that many might have about what drove Chapman to this action.
Chapter 27 is worth seeing for Leto's performance and the remarkable transformation that he went through to become Chapman, but the film isn't that strong otherwise, and its slow, meandering pace tends to be its undoing.