Killing pains and enlightens
Suspense fades to the background with a movie like The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, a problem for society rather than writer-director David Midell as he tells a story that happens too often. Police respond to a house call and a Black man ends up dead. The movie details how—in real life--senior citizen Kenneth Chamberlain told responders to go away after he accidentally set off an emergency health alarm. Rules, attitudes, and racism sparked out of proportion reactions.
Filmmaker Midell meets the challenge of recounting the sad scenario by making two wise choices: telling the story with a real time feel, and casting Frankie Faison as the title character. Faison’s career spans decades and includes hits like Coming to America and Do the Right Thing,
preparing him for the meaty, emotional role as a man fighting the harm and distrust that comes from both old age and a system bearing a proven track record of racism. With a strong, gravelly voice, Faison mixes emotions from confusion to stubbornness, generating empathy for a man caught in a bad situation. The rich detail of his performance recently earned him a prestigious Gotham Award as best actor.
Faison’s importance remains central in writer-director Midell’s choice to stick within the limits of information provided by audio and video recordings that detail the real-life event from 2011. Rather than switch around to different places and timelines, the story starts in the small room where the phone call happens, moving no further than the apartment complex as others come to the scene. Police, residents, and family members crowd into stairwells and hallways, with Midell’s handheld camera work enhancing a sense of pressure and intensity. Working closely with editor Enrico Natale, Midell presents a small but intense project that is appropriately painful to watch.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain streams on HBO Max.