"Interview with the Assassin" could have been made by any two 14-year-olds with a video camera. It looks cheap and gritty. It looks like a home movie; it looks real. And because it looks real, it's quite scary and surprisingly effective.
Before I go any further, let me tell you that "Interview with the Assassin" is a mocumentary; a fictional documentary designed look real. "The Blair Witch Project" is a perfect example, although somehow many people believed it was real. And although we know it's fake, this alternative version to the JFK assassination is convincing.
Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) is an unemployed cameraman in search of work. We know he's just a cameraman although he displays ambition of becoming a reporter. He's got a wife (Renee Faia) and an adorable daughter (Kelsey Kemper) to support, so he'll naturally take any job that pays. Sure enough, Ron gets the chance to rewrite history when his neighbor comes fourth with something he needs to get off his chest.
Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry) is a single and retired Marine who knows his life is coming to an end. Stricken with cancer, Walter was told by doctors he has less than five months to live. Before his death, Walter has something to confess, and Ron is the perfect person to reveal his secret to.
When the camera begins to roll, Walter tells us that he was the second gunman in the Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where JFK's motorcade was driving through on the day "everyone knew what they were doing when it happened." Walter was the man who fired the fatal shot from behind a fence on the "grassy knoll." He tells us Lee Harvey Oswald was just a scapegoat. They never met, but he tells us, "he was an idiot."
At first, the cheap presentation of the film takes awhile to get used to. We're accustomed to viewing expensive photography with proper lighting effects. The only light in this movie comes from the small bulb attached to the camera. We eventually take to it though, because the more we accept the home-movie-feel of its presentation, the easier it is to pretend we believe itís real.
Walter's credibility is doubted by Ron at first, and naturally it's doubted by us as well. Fortunately, Walter says he can prove it. After the first quick confession takes place from Walter's home in a sunny suburban California neighborhood, the duo head off in search for proof. The first stop is at a bank where in a safety deposit box, Walter shows Ron the actual shell casing that discharged when he fired the fatal bullet through Kennedy's brain. With the casing in hand, the next stop is a lab where Ron pays money to have the casing evaluated to verify its authenticity.
They continue to go from place to place, each day adds new evidence to the case that supports Walter's claim. We go to Dallas, Texas, and to the exact street where Kennedy was assassinated. Walter shows us the exact spot he rested until it was time to fire his rifle. We go to a gun store and to a friend's house to checkout Walter's marksmanship. And sure enough he still has his shooting abilities he learned as a Marine. The firing range belongs to a fellow Marine (Jared McVay) who accompanied him at the Bay of Pigs during the failed assassination attempt on Fidel Castro. Ron tries to interview him while Walter is playing with the guns, but his fellow Marine doesnít reveal much and is uncomfortable talking about their shady past.
The evidence is now overwhelmingly in favor of Walter's story, that is until the film throws us a curveball. Ron makes a surprise and unannounced visit to the home of Walter's ex-wife (Kate Williamson) to get a quick interview. She talks about her past days as Walter's wife. She describes them as brief and very unpleasant. He served time in prison for stealing, and we are told that he isn't the most trustworthy person. "He'll lie about anything," she tells Ron. After the interview, Ron, for the first time, wonders if he's wasting his time and money on chasing a lie. Is Walter senile and just playing a cruel joke? Is he suffering from delirium and really believes he's the killer when he's just an old man on his deathbed? The questions mount, but only time will reveal the answers.
The film has its horrific moments, like when we don't see what's going on behind closed doors, but we fear the worst. Another chilling moment occurs when Ron and his wife are examining security tape footage of their home from the previous night, when they heard unexplained noises coming from outside their window. They continually review the tape until Ron's wife points out a shadow she sees in the bushes. Is that a person she sees? If so, what was he doing in their backyard last night? Walter later tells Ron that "people" know about his confession and that they are no longer safe. They are in danger because unknown people will try to prevent Walter from getting the truth out.
Despite all of its impressive aspects, "Interview with the Assassin" does have its flaws. The film often drags, and in direct result it slows down the pace. Although we never lose interest, we do start to grow impatient. There are several scenes of just driving, just flying, just sleeping, or just eating. This was probably done to show the tapes are unedited, but there is no reason for Ron to be recording this.
Another problem I found is that I had a hard time connecting with Walter. He doesn't seem like a person who would assassinate the President of the United States. I was looking for a real motive, but we never get one. When asked repeatedly about how he was able to commit such a crime, he simply responds, "I was asked to do it, so I did it."
"What was going through your mind at the time?"
"Food. I was hungry. I remember that."
I tried to see why first-time director and writer Neil Burger made Walter so ambiguous. I guess you can argue that there is no definition of a killer, and that anybody, regardless of their appearance, can be a likely suspect. But I still didn't buy Walter's story. He's a former Marine with no grudge against the government or anybody in that administration. There's no reason why he'd accept orders to kill Kennedy. Then again, we do get some reasons, although I can't mention them in my review without giving anything away.
Up until the climax, "Interview with the Assassin" is a fun exploration into the state of paranoia and theories on government conspiracies. But it gets rushed in the end, and it doesnít balance correctly with the rest of the movie that moves along at a much slower pace.
We realize in the final minutes that what we are watching is fake. Granted, we knew the entire time that it is a fictional documentary, but the ending events paint it too clearly. Because we get that strong reminder, we no longer feeling tense. But the movie doesn't realize this and continues to play even after "cut" has been called. After a few ridiculous scenes, the movie ends, but not before the onscreen text that informs us of what happens to the characters long after the movie is over. It's kind of silly because we know it's fake, and it could have been avoided had the ending been done more carefully.
I left the theater with mixed emotions. I enjoyed the movie but I didn't like it. The ending ruined the thrills and suspense, and I felt the rest was a waste of time because of it. JFK theory buffs may or may not appreciate "Interview with the Assassin," because outside of the actual on-location filming, nothing about the movie is real. I played along though, and I enjoyed the movie until the end, where I was blatantly reminded that the film is only a mocumentary, and I was slapped in the face for it.
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