Review: The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Score: B+

Director: David Midell

Cast: Frankie Faison, Steve O'Connell, Enrico Natale, Ben Marten

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rated: NR

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.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.