"Interview with the Assassin" desires to open the debate once again of that oft-asked question: "who really shot JFK?" It starts with a very intriguing idea, but just when all options are open, writer/director Neil Burger retreats back into tried-and-true paranoid thriller form. Let the cheap thrills begin.
Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) is a reporter who has recently been laid off. Looking for work, he finds that a neighbor, Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry) wants to confess something to someone like Ron who has connections with the press. His big confession is that he claims he was the second gunman in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ron agrees to help investigate and find proof for Walter's claims, but as he continues to work with him, conspiracy theories arise, and it becomes clear that Walter's mission is more one of survival and revenge than anything else.
"Interview with the Assassin" presents a delectate opportunity that is easy to mess up. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Neil Burger does. First of all, I think he falls back to heavily on conspiracy-theory cliches. It's almost despairing when one knows exactly where Burger is going in a film that relies so heavily on the element of surprise. I was just waiting for Burger to give us a red herring or do something new to shock us, but that never happens. Watching "Interview with the Assassin", I felt like I was an accessory to Burger's manipulation, and Burger is nowhere near the point in his career where he is able to play the audience for fools and get away with it.
Many moments in the film seemed out of place in the digital camcorder/first person perspective that this film was filmed in. When one uses this format, one must make a commitment to being as honest as possible. Now, film is usually all about illusions and fakery, but when one makes a film with digital video and places the audience right in the action as Burger does here, the film is stripped down to its barest essentials. It has to look like it's all happening spontaneously, but in "Interview with the Assassin", each move feels scripted and predetermined, which will skyrocket any audience out of the world the filmmaker is trying to create.
In that respect, the acting falters as well. Raymond J. Barry, as Walter Ohlinger, really hams it up and goes for playing a stereotype instead of a real human being. Dylan Haggerty also makes a performance that is somewhat misconstrued, but I stop even as I write this: can we really blame the actors? For the characters themselves are poorly written, giving the actors little more than their short monologues at the end to help them find out just who they are.
"Interview with the Assassin" makes a very unconvincing case for what it is trying to portray. I think Burger may be more comfortable making films where he is given a little more room to stretch; with a little more inventive technical filmmaking, "Interview with the Assassin" may have had more power. This is only the beginning for Burger, and I think as he continues to make films, he will grow and come into his own.