Review: Chapter 27 (2007)

Chapter 27 (2007)

Directed by: JP Schaefer | 84 minutes | drama, musical | Actors: Jared Leto, Lindsay Lohan, Judah Friedlander, Ursula Abbott, George Bryant II, Kevin Cannon, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Melissa Demyan, Jeane Fournier, Molly Griffith, Matthew Humphreys, Redman Maxfield, Lauren Milberger, Matthew Nardozzi, Brian O’Neill Adam Scarimbolo, Michael Sirow, Jeff Skowron, Mariko Takai, Victor Verhaeghe, Erik Wolfe, Dennis Funny, David Kneeream, Lisa Marie Palmieri, Joey Sontz

Where were you when John Lennon was murdered? The date December 8, 1980 is etched in the memory of many. On that day, the former Beatles frontman and champion of love and peace was shot and killed by a deranged fan. The world was in deep mourning for the next few days. Cabaret duo Acda & De Munnik wrote a wonderful song about it, ‘Let Me Sleep’, in which the disbelief that gripped the millions of Lennon’s fans is aptly expressed. The instigator of all this suffering was Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old ‘fan’ who was quite lost. He had previously been addicted to drugs. And the religious fanatic had already attempted suicide several times. Chapman was a Beatles fan for many years, especially John Lennon. After a nervous breakdown, Chapman became so obsessed with Lennon that he even married an American-Japanese woman because she reminded him of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono.

The film ‘Chapter 27’ (2007), by the debuting director JP Schaefer, is about this eccentric figure. He based the story on the biographical book ‘Let Me Take You Down’, which Jack Jones wrote about Mark David Chapman. We follow Chapman (Jared Leto) in the three days before he fired the shot at Lennon. From the moment he lands in New York from Hawaii, it is clear that he has made his journey with a very special purpose. He rents a musty room in a filthy boarding house and soon joins the group of fans and paparazzi who have lined up in front of the imposing Dakota building where Lennon lives. Everyone is waiting for the moment to catch a glimpse of the pop legend. Here, Chapman meets fan Jude (Lindsay Lohan) and press photographer Paul (Judah Friedlander), both of whom think he’s just an oddball. And he sure is strange. Disturbed even. On the one hand, he hopes to meet Lennon and ask him to sign his LP. On the other hand, he hears voices in his head instructing him to use the gun that burns in his pocket when he is face to face with his idol. How this inner struggle is finally decided is already known to everyone.

The film ‘Chapter 27’ features a prominent role for the cult novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (with 26 chapters, hence the title of the film) by JD Salinger. Known as controversial in the US and alleged to have incited people to crime, this book had a profound impact on Chapman’s life. He identified with the main character, the severely depressed teenager Holden Caulfield. As John Lennon opted for a solo career and Chapman felt abandoned by his hero, he increasingly identified with Holden. Actually, that’s the only insight you get into Chapman’s psyche. Because while the film promises to reveal the killer’s true motives, very little is shown. Little is known about his background. A short phone call with his wife in Hawaii indicates that he is married, but otherwise it is a guess as to who this Chapman actually is. What remains is a terrifying and grim portrait of an unpredictable man who is clearly at a loss with himself and you know what he’s up to. Schaefer has made it not only a pretentious but also a slow, dragging film in which it rarely gets exciting. It is only towards the end, when Chapman’s inner struggle comes to a head, that the viewer is briefly shaken awake.

The fact that the judgment about ‘Chapter 27’ is still somewhat positive is entirely due to protagonist Jared Leto. Not only did he gain over thirty pounds for the role and underwent a complete metamorphosis to resemble Chapman as much as possible – which he succeeded quite nicely – he also put a large part of his own savings into the project. For years, the talented actor and singer has been trying to shake off the pretty boy image with controversial roles in, for example, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000). The role of murderer Chapman also fits in this vein. His portrayal of the obsessed Chapman is at his best reminiscent of Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976). But where DeNiro and Scorsese made a film that was brimming with energy, Leto and Schaefer’s ‘Chapter 27’ comes across as quite lethargic. Still, it is clear that Leto has put all his heart and soul into the role, especially in the aforementioned scene shortly before the murder. Since the entire film revolves around Chapman, there is little point in discussing the supporting actors in detail. Lindsay Lohan has done well to stay true to herself and to portray her character in a very natural way. Judah Friedlander has the honor of voicing the film’s only striking one-liner. A striking detail is also that the actor who plays Lennon has a name that strongly resembles his killer; Mark Lindsay Chapman.

It may be clear; ‘Chapter 27’ did not become what director Schaefer and producer or lead actor Leto had in mind, despite all the blood, sweat and tears they put into it. The film is slow, pretentious and hardly exciting. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming is that ‘Chapter 27’ does not live up to what was promised in advance; afterwards you are really none the wiser about the how and why of Chapman’s cowardly act. And that was exactly what made this film interesting in the first place! Nevertheless, Leto’s efforts are commendable and ‘Chapter 27’ is certainly not a bad start for debutant Schaefer. Fans of Lennon and The Beatles are calling for this film to be boycotted because they fear it would put their hero’s killer on too much of a pedestal. For them it will be a comforting thought that Leto plays a Chapman who does not arouse sympathy for a single moment.

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