Hyper-accurate retelling of a tragic and preventable event
Early on the morning of November 19, 2011, the White Plains, New York police responded to a medical alert to the home of Kenneth Chamberlain. An hour and a half later, he was dead at their hands. The story of how this incident unfolded is the subject of the new film The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.
Those 90 minutes were captured by a variety of sources from the medical alert company phone calls to 911 as well as eye witness reports. That makes this movie more than “Based on a true story.” This is a dramatic reenactment of the highest order, and it comes off like a visceral punch to the gut.
Chamberlain (played exquisitely by Frankie Faison) had no medical emergency, even though he did have health issues, including a bad heart, and some mental health troubles as well. On this day, the well check the cops were sent to do was based on an accidental trigger. Unfortunately, once in motion, it was impossible to stop, and Killing explains why without explaining it away.
Shot entirely from within the small apartment and the corresponding cramped hallway, this isn’t a film that wraps up with a courtroom scene or anything of the sort. It becomes apparent a little ways into the movie that we’re in for what is essentially a real time depiction of first the terrorizing and eventually the murder of this former marine, father, and grandfather.
Three police officers show up to execute the check, and their various levels of anger, incompetence, and pack mentality move the incident toward its logical and horrifying conclusion. Rossi (Enrico Natale, also a producer on the film) takes the lead, but as the new guy, he’s eventually pushed out of the way, even as he tries to deescalate. Parks (Steve O’Connell) is ostensibly the leader, but loses control over the situation almost immediately. Jackson (Ben Marten) is all rage and racism, the ultimate catalyst for Chamberlain not being with us today.
Many of the most outlandish elements of this story might be easy to write off if they weren’t completely true. The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain is unfortunately not a one-off event. Between when it was accepted into the Austin Film Festival and the first screening, Atatiana Jefferson was killed in her Fort Worth home in another numbing example of the way African Americans are treated and mistreated by the police. If it does nothing else, this film holds its story up to the light, providing an unflinching portrayal of a real American tragedy.