Chapter 27 is a docudrama which recreates Mark David Chapman's final 3-day
vigil at the Dakota apartment building in New York, which led ultimately
to his assassination of John Lennon. The title refers to the fact that
Chapman identified strongly with Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of
Catcher in the Rye, which has 26 chapters. By extension, his own life was
the unwritten 27th chapter.
It offers very little back story or character development and very
little insight into Chapman's motivations. It's narrated by Chapman, and
the choice of a first-person point of view allows us to experience what
went through his mind, but the inherent nature of a first person narration
done by a crazy man limits the ability of the filmmaker to present any
objective analysis, or even to establish his own viewpoint. Thus we know
WHAT Chapman was thinking, but not WHY. Ultimately that
makes the film uninformative. At the end of the story, I could form only the
extremely general hypothesis that the murder occurred solely because
Chapman's head was messed-up, but that was the one and only thing I had
actually remembered about the case before I started watching the film. The
lack of insight leads one to wonder why
the film was made to begin with.
The film's redeeming factor is an interesting performance from Jared
Leto, who apparently attended the Christian Bale / Robert De Niro academy
of gimmicky weight changes, and managed to put on some seventy pounds of
flab in order to duplicate Chapman's appearance to near perfection. He
also did a good job of mimicking Chapman's whispery voice and soft Georgia
accent. Leto might have received serious Oscar consideration, as excellent
impersonations often do, if the script had been a good one.
It isn't. In addition to being uninformative, the film is also boring.
Based on the films about Chapman and other similar individuals, I've
formed the opinion that frustrated, mentally disturbed loners are not
particularly fascinating subjects for films, even though their actions
arouse our curiosity. If they were such interesting people, after all, they would be surrounded by
scores of friends and/or hangers-on, and would therefore be, by
definition, not alone
and alienated to begin with. The same qualities which make them unappealing to society
also make them inherently unappealing to film audiences who, after all,
form a reasonably representative sample of society.
Boring, unappealing, and uninformative ... not much of a
recommendation, is it? If Dean Wormer had been the dean of a film school,
he would have counseled against those three things instead of "fat, drunk, and
stupid." After all, fat, drunk and stupid people sometimes make interesting
films, as we know from Guillermo del Toro, Richard Harris, and Michael
Moore, but boring, unappealing, and uninformative people probably should
not be in the entertainment business, although Lord knows they sometimes
manage somehow to slip through the cracks, as demonstrated by the career
of Rosie O'Donnell.
How limited is the film's appeal? Well, the distro offers some damning
evidence. Chapter 27 features a Leto performance that might ordinarily be
considered Oscar-worthy, and it also features tabloid favorite Lindsay Lohan in a small role. You would think that those elements alone would
guarantee fairly wide distribution during the annual December effort to
push prestige pictures into some theaters to establish Oscar eligibility.
Never happened. Lensed in 2006 and screened the following year at
Sundance, the film was ignored in December of 2007, then released in the spring of 2008,
premiering in a single location, never reaching more than eleven screens.
It grossed a total of $56,000 in the entire United States. There are many
reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (only 20% of them positive), but that fact is
not indicative of a wide theatrical presence. Most of those analyses
were filed long before the theatrical release, in response to the Sundance
Is it a bad film? No. "Bad" would not be a fair characterization. The
5.6 score at IMDb gives just about the right impression. It features
professional production values and an ambitious performance. The problem
is that the film's professionalism is not enough to make it worth an
investment of your time, because the assets can't overcome a script which
ultimately has absolutely nothing to say, and manages to say nothing
I did get one good thing from the film. It motivated me to read
Chapman's entry at the
Crime Library, which is far more interesting, informative, and
thorough than this movie.