The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

On November 19, 2011 at 5:22 a.m., 68 year-old Marine and Westchester County Corrections veteran Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. (Frankie Faison, "Do the Right Thing," "The Silence of the Lambs") accidentally set off his medic alert device.  When LifeAid dispatcher Candace Wade (voice of Anika Noni Rose) failed to reach him, she followed protocol and contacted the White Plains police department for a wellness check.  Chamberlain, who was bipolar and suffered from heart disease, was adamant telling the police that he was fine, the alert had been an accident and he was not letting them into his home.  They broke his door down and by 7 a.m. had executed “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.”

Laura's Review: B+

Writer/director David Midell comes at this true story from the unique perspective of coming from a family of police officers and being on the autism spectrum.  His outrage at what happened to Chamberlain comes through loud and clear in his gut punch of a film.  Midell has created a damning social injustice movie, the truth of what he depicts backed up with real life recordings of the incident heard over closing credits.  Shot in real time in a dingy apartment and a stairwell, the dramatic dynamism and ensemble acting the filmmaker has achieved showcase true independent filmmaking at its finest.

The film begins in a haze of confusion as we watch an old gentleman fumbling around his nightstand.  We hear Wade on his callbox in the living room, but he does not.  Three policeman arrive and they will become very distinct, Sergeant Parks (Steve O'Connell) and the clearly racist Officer Jackson (Ben Marten, "At Any Price") denigrating the entire apartment building they’ve been called to as a crime scene.  Only Officer Rossi (Enrico Natale) expresses any humanity for the man they’ve been called to check on, but his rookie status places him on a constant defensive.

Faison is heartbreaking as Chamberlain, clearly terrified and very prescient about his fate should he open the door to these officers.  At one point, his cry for Barack Obama cannot help but echo George Floyd’s call to his mother.  Marten portrays a very recognizable type of police officer, the type motivated by the power of his position and contempt for those he deems lesser than himself.  The more Chamberlain resists, the more his rage is evident, exploding into racial epithets which will later cause a scuffle with an additional responder black officer (Antonio Polk).  O’Connell straddles a line between supervision and base instinct, his character also guilty of racial profiling, but hiding behind ‘liability,’ rationalizing the breaking down of Chamberlain’s door as a CYA policy.  The compassionate Natale is the audience stand-in and he makes Rossi’s anguish palpable.

Chamberlain makes multiple phone calls, begging LifeAid to cancel the dispatch (they do, and Anika Noni Rose’s concerned cries cut through the chaos), talking to his son and his sister.  This, of course, leads the cops to conclude the man is holding someone hostage inside his apartment.  Chamberlain’s niece, Tonyia Greenhill (Angela Peel), arrives from downstairs, begging to speak to her uncle and help deescalate the situation.  She’s treated with contempt.   

The film is a horror show, so unrelentingly awful it is difficult to believe.  Midell’s escalation of events as they unfolded is shattering.  Of course, even after the man was tased, tackled and shot dead, no officers were ever held accountable.  “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” is clear evidence of the need to extract police from responding to this type of call and should be required viewing for all active police officers.  If Darnella Frazier had been present that night, the BLM movement would have kicked off a decade earlier.  This film will make you grieve.

Robin's Review: B

The title says it all in this true-life drama about an elderly black man who, while sleeping, accidentally triggers his Life Alert but does not hear the dispatcher callback. Following protocol, a “wellness check” is ordered and soon three police officers (not an EMT or social worker) shows up at Kenneth’s door, demanding he open up.

Of course, it is the middle of the night and an old man with heart problems and bipolar disorder, is alone, in a black neighbor and three white cops are pounding on his door demanding he open up. He tells them it is just a mistake and the dispatcher cancelled the call. The police demands escalate and the frightened man stands his ground,

Guess where this is going? Actually, you know exactly what is going to happen in writer-director David Midell’s relentless tome on police abuse of power and the racism that results in the titular death. I found the unrelenting law-enforcement inability to show compassion for the citizen in favor of “following police procedure” to CYA lays bare just how the system does NOT work, at least for some in our society – black and brown people in particular.

Watching “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” is akin to witnessing a train wreck. You know exactly what is going to happen but you cannot take your eyes off it – or stop it, unfortunately.

Gravitas Ventures releases "The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain" in theaters and on digital VOD platforms on 9/17/2021.