How many ways can we kill JFK? Neil Burger tosses his director's megaphone into the ring with this pseudo-documentary about a man who claims to have been the second gunman, aka the "grassy knoll" assassin. The result is a fantastic story, and-- with all due respect to Mr. Stone--a refreshingly coherent, engrossing piece.
Everyman Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) is asked to film the alarming confession of his neighbor Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry). Ohlinger wants the world to know about his role in the Kennedy assassination before he dies, and the clock is ticking. His chilling deadpan suggests either a man who is calculating enough to kill the president, or one who is unstable enough to lie about it. The neighbors go on a cross-country quest to prove the old man's story, and Kobeleski begins to wonder whether he's chasing his own tail.
The movie reminds us that a group becomes powerful because of average guys who aren't necessarily evil, simply willing. Ohlinger's detachment and disinterest in politics seem at odds with his actions. He goes along because, "You kill the most powerful man in the world, I'd say that makes you the most powerful." Kobeleski begins as an observer, but as the journey darkens, his fear and self-interests restrain him from attempts to slow its momentum. Finally, we realize that we're voyeurs, just like the guy holding the camera. If things don't work out too well for him, what does it mean for us?
It's a relevant question for a country that is just learning how often violence trumps order and power. We're struggling with our national decision to play by those rules, but the movie suggests it's naive to think that we can prevail by any other means.
The unfortunate side effect of governmental distrust is that cynicism spreads. If we can't trust the government, then why trust each other? As Kobeleski begins to doubt Ohlinger, we begin to doubt even our own perceptions--a predicament that Ohlinger articulates perfectly, "I don't care if God himself came down and said I did it. Somewhere, some guy would be saying it couldn't happen that way."
The only problem with documentary-style works of fiction is that the format makes an audience less willing to suspend its disbelief. Scenes of Secret Service ineptitude are particularly dubious. Viewers will also wonder why, when things heat up, Kobeleski never puts a call in to CNN.
Lacking explosions, decapitations, gratuitous nudity, or self-inflicted paper cuts, how did Interview with the Assassin ever make it to the big screen? With a pretty small budget, that's how. Burger whipped his cinematic indie debut together in 22 days with a handheld camera and a cast of 17 (that's including Secret Service Agents #1 and #2 and Babysitter). Burger, who also wrote the screenplay, has an excellent feel for realistic dialogue. Mimicking techniques employed in The Blair Witch Project, the camerawork is intentionally rough, and gives the appearance of an uncut video.
Though it favors exposition over explosion, the film does feature some gunplay and a pistol-whipping, so American audiences won't be on wholly unfamiliar ground. But if you miss movies with a plot, this one is for you.
Scouting the knoll.