Chapter 27

Year: 2007
Production Co: Peace Arch Entertainment
Director: JP Schaefer
Writer: JP Schaefer
Cast: Jared Leto, Lindsay Lohan, Judah Friedlander

Jared Leto blazed back into the moviegoing consciousness after his musical years with his Oscar winning role in Dallas Buyer's Club, but audiences, academies, etc could just as easily have bestowed the same props on him for this film from five years earlier.

After gaining weight to look like the prototypical shlubby, creepy, angry white man who in a later age would be enabled by social media and comments sections (and the kind of man history shows up Mark Chapman indeed was), Leto is perfect as John Lennon's stalker and killer. He's pasty, peery, intense and soft spoken but with an undercurrent of privileged rage just waiting to snap, every inch the kind of white loser who can't get laid and goes on to plague America with gun massacres nowadays.

Taking a lot of thematic cues from the book on Chapman by Jack Jones, screenwriter and director JP Schaefer weaves a lot of motifs about Chapman's inner state throughout his trip to New York a few days before the killing. The biggest is his obsession with A Catcher in the Rye, the fictional final chapter of which he writes himself to serve his delusions of grandeur, and director Shaefer does a good job of staging Chapman's fractured grip on reality – more than ably supported by Leto.

I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but the Chapman depicted here appears to have lost his mind after being an obsessed Beatles fan because of what a lot of people perceive as Lennon's having broken the band up. Together with his infamous comment about the band being bigger than Jesus, it's enough to turn Chapman's irrational love of the man bubbling over into irrational hate. He also constantly veers between the two, angry because of Lennon's apparently not recognising how special he is and (like Charles Manson, another psycho driven by Beatles music), seeing messages and edicts in lyrics.

On top of all that he's recently converted to Christianity, so not only finds Lennon's extolling of love and peace while living in riches and luxury hypocritical but fights all the wrenching attendant messages about guilt and sexual desire, particularly when another Beatles fan in the form of pretty young Jude (Lindsay Lohan) shows interest in him.

We see Chapman arriving at the cruddy YMCA in New York, ostensibly with the purpose of meeting Lennon and getting an autograph, setting about spending as many days as it takes standing around the entrance of The Dakota apartment building with so many others waiting for the star to appear and chat or sign album sleeves.

But the moral torpor of the place quickly disgusts him so he goes to a much nicer hotel he can't really afford, the first sign he intends to do something more permanent here than get an autograph. You're also shocked when he receives a phone call from his wife at home – it's even more tragic that this is a grown man so disconnected from the real world he'll take the time to leave his wife behind and spend days on end standing outside a building waiting for his idol like a teenager.

He meets and befriends Jude, striking up a very tentative friendship it seems he hopes will turn romantic, but Chapman can't help eventually putting everyone offside with his Aspergers-like antisocial ways. From telling tall tales to anyone who'll listen to arguing loudly in the street with the only guy who might really help him in his quest, the paparazzi photographer Paul (Judah Friedlander) who ended up taking the infamous picture of Chapman getting his autograph, Chapman ends up making everyone around him either uncomfortable or frightened, making himself even more isolated and self righteous.

It's a neat and compact little movie with only a few locations, and the script does a good job of making a character study out of what could have been a visually quite dull film – all that happened on the surface is that Chapman spent days outside the Dakota and then pulled a gun on Lennon when he arrived back late one night. The casting does the rest, and if you'd seen this film when it came out you'd have just smirked knowingly when they gave Leto an Oscar for Dallas Buyer's Club – he was already a great actor.

And yes, you read the cast list right – the actor who played John Lennon's name is actually Mark Chapman.

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