Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CHAPTER 27: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Jared Leto, Lindsay Lohan, Mark Chapman
Director: Jarrett Schaefer
Runtime: 84 min.
Rating: ***
Genre: Drama

When Mark Chapman was asked why, he tried to explain – “It was just a tremendous compulsion of just feeling this big hole." I think Chapter 27, more than anything, is that big hole of nothing. It might have been intended to be a case study of an obviously psychotic personality, for there are such clues strewn all over the place. But somewhere, looming behind writer director J. Schaefer was the idea about a film dealing with a state of mind, rather than understanding a person. That is why I cannot claim with much authority when I say he has succeeded more or less, because I’m not sure the reasons he set out with. Chapter 27 has an obese Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream, Alexander), as Mark Chapman, staring at the camera for almost the entire length of its running time, yet I’m not sure if we have managed to achieve even a shred of insight into what made the man. Yet still, we experience the world through his eyes, or something along those lines, over the span of those three fateful days, mirroring the twenty six chapters of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the book that Chapman had in his hand when he shot John Lennon.
Let me ponder over this matter with you over the span of this review, and maybe we can arrive at something. Maybe we can decide if it is an anatomy of a murderer, or as I doubt, is it an anatomy of a murder.
The question is – was Mark Chapman an interesting enough character so as to merit a feature length production devoted to understand him. I’m not sure, just as I wasn’t when they made that excuse about Sam Byck, otherwise titled The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004), or Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). They have already created what is the defining moment in the history of cinema as far as sociopathic insanity is concerned in Taxi Driver, and I think it is impossible to create another film of its type and try and exist outside of its shadow. Much of it is because there’s naked truth in practically every moment of that film, so much of it that could be learned and felt over multiple viewings. Taxi Driver is a masterpiece of such immense stature that it would be unwise and unfair on our part to criticize any film just because parts of it are inspired. It is bound to occur because Taxi Driver is practically a psychopathic lonely gun-crazed assassin, pretty much where every assassin even in real life boils down to. As I read through Norman Mailer’s Oswald’s Tale, I could recognize the hazy frameworks of a conclusion, that was, well, pretty much Travis Bickle. Chapman had tried to commit suicide a couple of times before, and as is the norm, this was a man clearly in need of a reason. I mean, there’s nothing much to understand except the usual. You dig deep in and you will find a child whose parents quarreled, and as a result he retreated into his own world. Standard issue that. So let us leave the obvious comparisons here, of which there are many, including Chapman trying out his .38 in front of a mirror.
The movie strives for an ominous beginning, with Chapman whispering, in a dragging voiceover – “I believe in Holden Caulfield…and the book…and what it was saying to a lost generation of phony people.” He is narrating to us, just as Holden Caulfield was, and much in the same vein, he would be sharing everything that spanned in those three days, but nothing would be bared from his past. He does acknowledge the influence of his past, he shrugs it off nevertheless. As if, in a dilemma, if he is the product of his life, or if he is the master taking reins of it. The film hasn’t constructed it, it is itself confused about its central character and how he fits in where. It wants to have it both ways, it wants to look down upon this whacko, and it does honestly want to understand his devotion to Lennon and Caulfield.
Somewhere in the first quarter, Chapman asks a cabbie the same question that drove Holden nuts – where did the ducks in Central park go in the winter? The cabbie thinks he’s kidding him. And from his reaction, which Chapman seems to have anticipated, he takes heart. As if vindicating the truth of The Catcher in the Rye. And hence the world is phony, because what is in the book is in real life. I wasn’t sure of the stand the movie was taking here, and if you happen to watch it, do supply me with your thoughts. This is a film which believes what it says, and then says what it believes. Consider this, the Dakota where Lennon stayed was the place where Polanski shot his satanic Rosemary’s Baby. And then, Polanski’s wife was murdered by a man obsessed by the Beatles song Helter Skelter. Chapman uses this as an omen for him to carry out his act. And he believes in signs too, and he’s looking all over the place for them. He is living Caulfield’s last three days of freedom, right down to ordering for a prostitute, and then he seems to take great heart from the fact she has worn a green dress. Probably, he mentioned that in his call too.
One could claim that this here is the long- awaited take on Salinger’s novel, which has been sought by innumerable greats from Brando, to Nicholson, to Billy Wilder, to Spielberg, to Elia Kazan. It is aware of its narrative style, as in the flashback, and as if to prove it is clever, it uses brief flashes of events from the future and the past. Chapman is talking to his wife, and we see a flash of him sitting in the back of the police car, looking as they clear Lennon’s body of the front gate of the Dakota. But neither the script, nor the filmmaker seem to be very sure of where to go with that approach. They obviously are keen to show the narrator Chapman as the central version, ala a Keyser Soze without the twist, but they lose it somewhere. This is obviously a show through Chapman’s eyes, yet other people feel inconsequential, and that includes Lennon. Maybe that is what was intended, to a world through a Chapman who had Holden breathing through him, but to whom is the angst directed towards. We never feel it. All there’s looming for those 80 odd minutes is the impending murder. Imagine In Cold Blood narrated not by Capote but by the minds of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, and you might have a fair idea how the film develops its style. Only that the film is a bit too stylish, and too technical.
Not that it doesn’t have a heart, which it does, and at times it is moving. Much of it is because of Leto, who despite a good performance is hampered by unnecessary additions. He huffs and puffs, and he whispers as if the Satan inside is speaking to him, but it is when he acts natural and from the heart is when it works. Like the sequence of his call to his wife. Or the way he stands on the curb with Lennon’s disc staring somewhere beyond. He seems to have gained a hell of a lot of weight for the part, and this is one of the better performances of this kind.
One thing I hated was the terrible shift in tone as the grief stricken faces of thousands of Lennon fans are hurled at us. Look, the way I saw it, this film was about a murder of a person who happened to be Lennon. What if it wasn’t him? I wouldn’t think it would matter too much. Maybe a bit of back-story, and that’s all. They try to take a stand and go out of the way to distance themselves from Chapman, which really made me sad. I know, this film seems to have been hated by a lot of people, and a lot of critics I have read have scorned the man under the pretense of ripping the film apart, which in my opinion is unfair. Needless and uninteresting were the terms most often used, and when Yoko Ono upon Lennon’s murder asked of one and all never to utter the name of this weasel for he committed the murder to claim fame, it is this film that is getting the boycott. I might have never consciously heard a single line of a single song of Lennon or The Beatles. Maybe in the soundtrack of some movie. And so, I wouldn’t necessarily feel like many folks who have been touched by the man and his lines. But for one thing I take a firm stand, and that is a film owes nothing to nobody. Especially this one, which is very far from being flawless, and even at 80 minutes has hell of a lot of needless elements, one of them being Lohan. Yet, it is far better than the phony artistic pictures that get made these days, and nobody seems to hate them with their living guts.

No comments: