Chapter 27 (2007) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for language, brief nudity, and a scene of violence
Running Time: 81 min.
Cast: Jared Leto, Lindsay Lohan, Judah Friedlander, Mark Lindsay Chapman
Director: J.P. Schaefer
Screenplay: J.P. Schaefer
Review published April 1, 2007
There are 26 chapters to J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye", which was the book possessed by Mark David Chapman at the time that he infamously shot John Lennon on December 8, 1980. He held onto the book claiming that it possesses the reasons he committed the heinous act -- he not only wanted to be the book's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, he sometimes went so far as to think he and Holden were one and the same.
Chapter 27is first-time writer-director J.P. Schaefer's own version of the reasons behind the killing, painting Chapman as a psychotic who thought it was some kind of mission to end the life of the famous musician and humanitarian, listening to conflicting inner voices, one seeing the signs that he should go through with it, and the other hoping for something to occur that would take him away from that place so that he couldn't.
Fictionally narrated as if in the voice of Chapman (Leto, Lonely Hearts) himself, mirroring the narration by Caulfield in Salinger's novel, Schaefer follows the events that transpired over the days Chapman would wait outside the Dakota apartment building, where John Lennon had been known to reside, waiting for the chance to get his autograph. His state, at least as depicted in the film, is one of constant teetering on the brink of insanity, knowing his actions aren't what he truly wants to do, and yet, compelled by a need predicated on the belief that it is some sort of fulfillment of his destiny.
Schaefer's film is a slow character study that seeks only to give the state of mind of Chapman during those three days, making occasional allusions to a troubled past that included an abusive father, a love of the Beatles, suicidal thoughts, and an on-again, off-again devotion to his Christian faith. While most of what is seen in Chapter 27 is pure conjecture, partially inspired from Salinger's book and partially derived from statements that Chapman has made since the events, especially in his autobiography entitled, "Let Me Take You Down", it still works as a film depicting the cracking of one man's psyche, fascinating for a portrayal of someone who constantly wants to be with someone to talk to so that he isn't left alone to listen to his inner voices that tell him to do things he doesn't want to do.
Most of the commentary about Chapter 27 will probably be about Jared Leto's performance, and especially of his weight gain (between 60 and 70 lbs.) in order to bulk up to the size of the portly Chapman. The normally thin Leto is nearly unrecognizable with the pounds added on, and does bear a remarkable resemblance to Chapman at the time of his capture. Even if the film doesn't meet well with Beatles fans, or even many critics, Leto's performance is still worthy of note -- it may be his best performance in a film to date. Leto also serves as the executive producer on Chapter 27, putting mind, body and his own cash on the line -- if the film doesn't make money, perhaps he can strike a deal with Subway sandwiches for his weight loss technique as "the other Jared".
Schaefer employs quite a bit of artistic license to his piece, mostly to try to keep the allusions to "Catcher in the Rye" flowing throughout, trying to tell the tale of Caulfield using the events of Lennon's death as the means. It's not entirely successful; Jude (Lohan, Bobby), a fellow Lennon fan that Chapman befriends while waiting in front of the Dakota, complains about how she didn't like Rosemary's Baby because it is slow and nothing happens until the end. I would gather that Jude would not like Schaefer's film either for the same reasons. Schaefer's obsessions with the correlations of all things perhaps goes a little too far when the actor who portrays John Lennon is also named Mark Chapman (The Langoliers, Legend of the Mummy).
Needless to say, any film that asks us to identify with a killer of a much-beloved figure such as John Lennon is going to meet with plenty of controversy, and certainly will rile many who would rather remember the singer for his messages of peace and hope, rather than seen through the filtered and skewed view of a deranged madman. Certainly, those who feel quite passionate about Lennon and his legacy would do wise to avoid the piece altogether. However, for those who can retain an objective eye, Chapter 27 provides a unique look into one man's psychosis and offers to give a little light as to the meaning, and the meaninglessness, of John Lennon's death.
©2007 Vince Leo