The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is a film that will leave you scared and asking, “How could this happen?” It is based on a true event that took place in 2011. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the continued senseless deaths by racists, it remains an achingly important indictment on society in general, and the notions of power and trust.
Morgan Freeman is one of the film’s executive producers and David Midell writes and directs. Some artistic licence has been taken here by the latter, as he has fictionalised some elements when it comes to the police. But as the closing scenes show, Midell has done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the heinous events that transpired that day.
The film plays out in real-time in almost the same time frame as the actuality. On November 29 2011, a 68-year old African American man and former serviceman named Kenneth Chamberlain (Frankie Faison The Wire, who is mesmerising) accidentally set off his medical alert and alarm. In less than two hours he would be killed. It is chilling to think how things could have escalated so badly.
This is more like a horror story than a drama. Three policemen are dispatched to a modest apartment in White Plains. One is a rookie cop and former teacher (Enrico Natale) who tries to argue for empathy with his superior (Steve O’Connell). Chamberlain was known to have mental health conditions including bipolar disorder. Fellow cop, Officer Jackson (Ben Marten) is a hothead who resorts to racial slurs. Law enforcement is obviously prejudiced, believing most of the residents in the building are guilty of illegal acts.
All the actors put in strong performances. But it is Faison especially who excels at showing such a wide range of different emotions: confusion, frustration, assertiveness, rage, and resolve to maintain his dignity. Chamberlain allegedly told the officers that there had been a mistake and he didn’t require their assistance around 60 times. This was affirmed by Chamberlain’s niece (Angela Peel) and the medical alert attendant) the police call in reinforcements. Yet the cops would break-in to Chamberlain’s house without a warrant or probable cause. Terrifying stuff.
There are shots where handycams are used and the focus is on Faison’s face. The proceedings continue to escalate and audiences will feel a visceral sense of claustrophobia. While there is only a door separating Chamberlain from some overzealous cowboys, it seems there is a massive chasm between the two groups. There is vulnerability on one side, and sheer bloody-minded arrogance and power-tripping on the other.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain will have people asking lots of questions, the most obvious being why medical professionals weren’t called for this “emergency”. It is harrowing to think that no disciplinary action has been undertaken against the cops who killed the very man they were supposed to be helping. The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain shows how brutal police can overreach with dire consequences. This film is like a sucker punch to your gut; it will stay with you long after those credits roll.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is available to stream now on VOD and streaming on HBO Max.