Most people I know don’t want to go near Chapter 27, the movie for which Jared Leto gained 60 pounds to play the man who murdered John Lennon, Mark David Chapman. Yet in a world of celebrity gone amok, isn’t Chapman’s distorted soul a legitimate place for a movie to visit? Leto’s performance is more than a junior Bobby De Niro stunt. It’s a genuine transformation, as the actor submerges himself in Chapman’s couch-potato flab and red-rimmed eyes, and in the Georgia-gone-Hawaii preacher’s drawl that expresses his warped sense of mission. He makes Chapman a creep with gravitas.
As Chapman arrives in New York to wait for a glimpse of Lennon, the man he at once worships and loathes, Leto’s real costar is the Dakota, that Gothic gingerbread apartment fortress that is so fused in our minds with Lennon’s murder (and Rosemary’s Baby) that it’s now one of the world’s most resonant ready-made movie sets. Chapter 27 mirrors the three-day span of The Catcher in the Rye, the novel Chapman regards as his assassin’s handbook. As he stands there, clutching his copy of Double Fantasy, we start to see that his death wish isn’t just a ticket to fame. Chapman thinks that by killing Lennon, he will alter the universe. And in an awful way, he does: He replaces a world in which the Beatles are gods with one in which they are mere mortals. Chapter 27 is far from flawless, but Leto disappears inside this angry, mouth-breathing psycho geek with a conviction that had me hanging on his every delusion. B