Chapter 27 is a new movie out in limited release right now that is bound to stir controversy. Not just because it features Jared Leto in a role that is a bit of a character departure — he is neither rock star handsome nor inelegantly Requiem For A Dream-wasted here. Rather, Leto put on a ton of weight in order to more accurately portray the physical appearance of John Lennon's crazed assassin, Mark David Chapman.
The eerie (and creepy) accuracy of Leto's portrayal doesn't end with the physical similarities either. But we'll get to more on that in a minute. The controversy of Chapter 27 — whose title refers to a new, final chapter of the book Catcher In The Rye that the infamous murderer may have felt he was writing in his own twisted mind by killing Lennon — has to do more with the character of Chapman himself.
When I suggested to a fellow editor here at Blogcritics that I might decide to write about this film, he immediately recoiled in horror. What he said to me, in so many words, was that to do so would be to help play into giving Chapman the fame he was seeking, and that it would somehow dishonor the memory of Lennon.
I have to respectfully disagree. The subject matter here is not pleasant of course, especially to fans (including this writer) who still mourn Lennon to this day. It's not meant to be.
What this film instead does — and successfully I might add — is seek to make its own sense of a tragic event that is nonetheless now a matter of historical record. The way Chapter 27 attempts this is by getting inside the twisted mind of Mark David Chapman himself, something that Jared Leto's performance does with finely nuanced detail and uncanny, horrifying realism.
Leto is brilliant here in a way that does anything but glorify Chapman. In his portrayal of a person who can only be described as one sick fuck, what you see is a glimpse inside a spiral into terrible, unspeakable madness. It is not a sympathetic picture.
Deceptively subtle at first, Leto's Chapman seems more than anything to be a very confused young man who takes Catcher In The Rye a bit too seriously. But Leto soon unravels this facade piece by terrifying piece. When you see him alone in his room, standing in a mirror grinning boyishly, and then emptying his gun into a mirror, there is no mistaking the evil within.
Soon, at every turn, every "friend" the pathetic Chapman seemingly makes while he stalks his prey for three days outside the Dakota symbolically flees in horror. From the paparazzo who snaps his picture getting an autograph, to the prostitute who seems creeped out at her "john" for the night from the moment she steps foot in his hotel room, people one by one realize there is something terribly wrong with Chapman.
Lindsay Lohan is particularly good here as the Beatles fan "Jude" whom Chapman meets outside the Dakota. Jude even kind of likes Chapman at first, falsely recognizing him as a somewhat awkward fellow fan. But in the end, even Jude runs away in near terror as Chapman chases her down the street begging her to stay. It's an understated and quite effective performance from Lohan that still definitely gets the point across.
Watching this movie is almost like reliving the experience as a first hand observer. It puts you right at the front door of the Dakota on that terrible day.
But — like Oliver Stone's biopics about JFK, Jim Morrison, and Richard Nixon (all three of which ran somewhat loose with the historical facts in order to make their point) — it never does so in a manner that comes off as exploitative or gratuitous. Chapter 27 simply interprets the events. Unlike Stone's films, however, there is no attempt at spin or shine. By the time this movie ends the way we all know it does, all you are left with is the same hollow meaninglessness of the event itself.
If Mark David Chapman's act on December 8, 1980 was that of a narcissistic psychopath seeking fame, the way he is presented here offers no quarter. He is simply seen here as the pathetic inkblot on history that he is. He is the bloodstain — nothing more.
For those reasons — and Jared Leto's stark, but riveting performance — I can strongly recommend Chapter 27. It is a disturbing but very powerful film.