The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is the feel-bad movie of the year. A harrowing recreation of a real police shooting from 2011, it's extremely well-made and extremely frustrating.
In the early morning hours of November 11, Kenneth Chamberlain (Frankie Faison) accidentally set off his medical alert device. When the company couldn't reach him through his two-way monitor or his cell phone, they called in a welfare check to the local police. Three officers showed up, and by 7am Chamberlain was dead. Suffering from mental illness, hearing problems and disorientation, Chamberlain's assertions go unheeded, and the cops double down on getting into his apartment.
Rossi (Enrico Natale) is the newest to the force and also the most empathetic. He's quickly pushed aside by the hotheaded Jackson (Ben Marten, twirling his mustache despite having no facial hair) and Sgt. Parks (Steve O'Connell), whose possible legitimate concern melts into a demand for obedience, context be damned. While Chamberlain barricades himself inside, chatting with the medical company dispatch and his family, he stands firm in his constitutional rights, even as more cops try to break down his door.
Without ever using catchphrases like "Defund the Police" or "ACAB," writer-director David Midell paints the perfect picture. Every development makes it crystal clear there was absolutely no reason for law enforcement to be there. A possible medical emergency should be responded to by EMTs. And each of the cops represents a real problem in all police departments. Racists want to intimidate and harm minorities. Long-timers care only about compliance, even if they're wrong. And cops trying to do a good job get shot down by other officers, threatened and outnumbered.
But the tragedy doesn't stop at the illegal entry and unlawful killing. None of the cops were ever disciplined despite obvious failures, and while a civil case is still pending some appeals, it's clear the police department, the U.S. Justice Department and the courts don't seem to care at holding anyone accountable for this miscarriage of justice. This is the highest profile case like this, but it happens all across the country, including in Fort Worth in 2019.
Anchored by three strong performances - only Ben Marten is the weak link - The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is essential viewing.
*This film is available theatrically and on VOD platforms.