The Lennon Report is built upon interesting details that haven’t been widely shared, but the film gets bogged down in minutiae.
John Lennon died in an era when news traveled much differently than it does today. CNN was in its infancy as the first 24-hour cable news channel, and the internet was unfathomable at the time, much less the speed with which Twitter and other social media can now spread breaking news around the globe. The Lennon Report uses that angle to tell what’s been billed as the “untold story” of the immediate aftermath of Mark David Chapman pulling the trigger and violently ending the life of a cultural icon who so often sang about peace.
In December 1980, the news of Lennon’s death broke when, in the waning seconds of a tied Monday Night Football game, Howard Cosell made the announcement on-air. News of the death managed to spread quickly because a television journalist who had been in a motorcycle accident earlier that night just so happened to be situated on a gurney outside the operating room where doctors frantically tried to resuscitate the lifeless Lennon. As a result, The Lennon Report incorporates plenty of landline telephones as it shapes firsthand accounts by journalists and hospital staff into a low-budget narrative film that probably would’ve been better told as a documentary.
To stretch events that took about 30 to 45 minutes of real time into a 90-minute film is typically going to lead to pacing issues, and this problem is exacerbated in The Lennon Report by the simple fact that viewers already know the outcome of the desperate attempts to massage the former Beatle’s heart back to life. Far too much time is spent in the operating room as Dr. David Halleran (Evan Jonigkeit) attempts to resuscitate the man whom he refers to as the voice of his youth. Meanwhile, various nurses and cops try in vain to prevent injured journalist Alan Weiss (Walter Vincent) from hobbling to a phone to report the scoop of his life. The only other significant narrative thread is violin-accompanied scenes of Yoko Ono (Karen Tsen Lee) clinging to the hope of good news while waiting at the hospital, and then subsequently coming to terms with the tragedy.
Despite what must have been a chaotic sequence of events, the hospital scenes contain a puzzling lack of urgency. The hospital itself is nearly devoid of visible patients other than Weiss and Lennon, despite the news clip montage during the opening credits claiming that 1980 was shaping up to be one of the most violent years in New York City history. Even the crime scene itself, where we catch brief glimpses of Chapman’s arrest and Lennon’s bloodied body, feels like a dramatization for a true-crime TV show. Add in some poorly-developed characters acting out hammy banter or needless melodrama and the whole production clearly shows its low-budget.
The Lennon Report is built upon interesting details that haven’t been widely shared, but the film gets bogged down in minutiae. Too often, it feels like a thin premise stretched interminably long and padded with cheesy dialogue. The atmosphere of the era is crafted effectively enough, but the film rarely focuses on the most compelling aspects of the murder of an icon and, alternatively, it doesn’t manage to provide us with much insight into the effect this event had on those who got their hands dirty in an effort to help. The brief interviews with the real-life figures that roll during the credits are far more compelling than much of the film itself.