After he pumped four bullets into John Lennon's back on Dec. 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman claimed to have been motivated by a strange combination of hatred and love. He was an obsessive Beatles fan, awed by and resentful of Lennon's genius, who hated Lennon for his fame but sought to blast off a piece of it for himself.
Andrew Piddington's "The Killing of John Lennon" chronicles Chapman's obsession and mirrors it as well. Shot on what an opening title calls "real locations," the movie returns to the scene of the crime and the scenes preceding it. Shot in Chapman's former apartment, the gun shop where he purchased the murder weapon, even at the condo complex where he worked, the movie shadows Chapman from his childhood in Georgia to his adult life in Hawaii, through the days he spent in Manhattan before fulfilling the plan he had been hatching for months.
Chapman's words, we are told, are his own.
"Killing's" tone is alternately sober and salacious. The movie's fetishistic attention to detail lends it the veneer of reportage, but Piddington is not above loading the soundtrack with ominous low-register whomps in the manner of a tabloid TV show or having Jonas Ball, as Chapman, leer into a wide-angle lens like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."
At his most grandiose, Chapman saw himself as his generation's Holden Caulfield, or its Travis Bickle. Intentionally or not, Piddington makes Chapman into the icon he always dreamed of being.
With a lengthy list of television biopics to his credits, Piddington is a director of obvious skill, but "Killing" never moves past a superficial understanding of its subject, whose transcribed ramblings may not be the best key to unlocking his fractured mind. The movie gets inside Chapman's head but never under his skin.
"The Killing of John Lennon." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: One hour, 54 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.