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‘The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain’: Robin’s movie review

The movie poster for the film “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.” A close-up of a man looking through a peephole on a door.

For this week’s Movie Minutes, KUNR entertainment reviewer Robin Holabird has this look at a film that highlights a serious — and troubling — trend in America.

Suspense fades to the background with a movie like The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, a problem for society rather than writer-director David Midell as he tells a story that happens too often. Police respond to a house call, and a Black man ends up dead. The movie details how in real life, senior citizen Kenneth Chamberlain told responders to go away after he accidentally set off an emergency health alarm. Rules, attitudes, and racism sparked out of proportion reactions.

Filmmaker Midell meets the challenge of recounting the sad scenario by making two wise choices: telling the story with a real-time feel and casting Frankie Faison as the title character. Faison’s career spans decades and includes hits like Coming to America and Do the Right Thing, which prepared him for the meaty, emotional role as a man fighting the harm and distrust that comes from both old age and a system bearing a proven track record of racism. With a strong, gravelly voice, Faison mixes emotions from confusion to stubbornness, generating empathy for a man caught in a bad situation. The rich detail of his performance recently earned him a prestigious Gotham Award as best actor.

Faison’s importance remains central in writer-director Midell’s choice to stick within the limits of information provided by audio and video recordings that detail the real-life event from 2011. Rather than switch around to different places and timelines, the story starts in a small room where the phone call happens, moving no further than the apartment complex as others come to the scene. Police, residents and family members crowd into stairwells and hallways, with Midell’s handheld camerawork enhancing a sense of pressure and intensity. Working closely with editor Enrico Natale, Midell presents a small but intense project that is appropriately painful to watch.

The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain streams on HBO Max.

Robin Holabird is KUNR’s entertainment reviewer, author and former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office. You can see a full archive of her reviews here.

Robin Holabird reviews movies for KUNR, and her reviews have aired for more than 30 years. During that time, she has had a high profile in the Nevada film community.
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