Film Review – The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain (2020)

One of the true highlights of the cinematic experience is when a series of still images, played at 24 frames per second to become the moving image, transcend the screen onto which they are projected to make the audience truly feel something. Cinema has the ability to make us laugh, make us cry, to feel the entire gamut of human emotions.

The Killing Of Kenneth Chamberlain is one such film. A truly incendiary piece of filmmaking that will make you feel pain, hurt, guilt, shame and above all… anger.

The film tells the true story of the final hours of the life of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., an elderly African-American veteran with bipolar disorder, who was killed during a conflict with police officers who were sent to his home to check on him.

This is a film where the *spoiler* argument is completely invalid. The fate of the main character is right there in the title. However that knowledge does nothing to lessen the impact of the film’s tragic conclusion. If anything, audiences will be wishing for a different outcome every time someone makes a decision that forces everyone further down that dark path.

Writer-director David Midell knew that Kenneth’s story was one that needed to be told. He has a focused, singular vision and is ably supported by every single member of the production team.

From the tight, claustrophobic cinematography, the pounding score and flawless editing that continually cuts to what is happening either side of the door, it all contributes to an incredibly tense atmosphere that does not allow anyone a chance to catch their breath.

With a short 80 minute runtime, the tragic event plays out almost in real time. By containing the action to Kenneth’s apartment and the stairwell outside his front door, it places the viewer right there next to him and the officers, neighbours and family members. It raises the question, what would you do to try and diffuse the increasingly frantic situation? It is impossible not to become emotionally involved.

All of this however could be for nothing if the audience did not have empathy for Kenneth. Frankie Faison was rightfully nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his intense and heart-breaking performance. With the event playing out in real time, there is no opportunity for cutaways or flashbacks to flesh out the character of Kenneth Chamberlain. However Faison gives the audience everything they need to know from his speech, his mannerisms and his pain. This is a man who has experienced hurt and injustice in the past, is aware of the African-American’s history in society and knows exactly how something like this is going to end.

If any part of you doubts that something like this could actually happen, during the end credits, excerpts from the actual calls made during the incident show how close the film has stuck to the truth.

It is a damning indictment of the current state of policing and the treatment of those with mental health disorders in the US. A country sadly still dealing with a legacy of systemic racism.

This is a film that will make you angry, and rightly so. The Killing Of Kenneth Chamberlain is sadly a story that should never have had to be told. However it is an incredibly powerful, visceral piece of storytelling and one of the best films of the year.

★★★★★


Drama, Thriller | USA, 2020 | 15 | Digital HD | Buy| 9th May 2022 (UK) | Signature Entertainment | Dir.David Midell | Frankie Faison, Angela Peel, Enrico Natale, Steve O’Connell