Interview With The Assassin
Showtime // R // $24.98 // June 17, 2003
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted June 12, 2003
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The Movie

There is an indescribable moment of cinematic wonderment that never ceases to amaze me, and when it happens it makes the film-watching event that much more significant. I don't what you'd call it -- the Final Whammy, the Daring Dénouement, whatever -- but when it happens, it slams with all the impact of a sledge hammer to the grundies.

So what am I talking about? I am referring to that final scene of a film which, within a few seconds, packs such a dramatic (and thematic) wallop that it places all of the events that precede the scene in an entirely new context; a scene that smacks you upside the head because you never saw it coming, but upon viewing it your entire appreciation of the film has changed dramatically. I'm not talking about a "Big Twist"-style ending a la The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, but something subtler and more emotional that evokes epiphanous revelations from the viewer rather than the film's characters.

Interview With The Assassin has one of these scenes. It's a potent and chilling one, and it makes the film even better than it already was.

Writer/Director Neil Burger created a documentary-style film based around the concept that a man named Walter Ohlinger, claiming to be the legendary "second gunmen" who shot President Kennedy from the "grassy knoll", wants his story told. He enlists his neighbor, a cameraman named Ron Kobeleski, to document his tale. In the midst of their investigation, which takes them from California to Dallas, Maryland, and Washington D.C., they constantly seem to be followed, harassed, and monitored -- or are they? The dramatic arc of the story rests upon the question of whether or not Ohlinger is telling the truth, or is simply a mentally ill man, dying of cancer and trying to give his life meaning before his time is up.

The film has endured many comparisons to The Blair Witch Project, in that it too seems to be a "documentary based on actual footage" (although the film is obviously fictional and does not presume to present itself as otherwise.) Upon first viewing, Burger's film seems to be tilted towards conspiracy theorists and historical revisionists alike, and Burger's ability to generate tension through a permeating aura of creeping paranoia certainly lends an air of credence to many of Ohlinger's theories. But the film is structured in such a manner so that there is plentiful evidence that could condemn Ohlinger as a delusional crackpot who may or may not have been in a mental institution before, during, and after November 22, 1963. Burger's tight script and tense direction generate enough thrills and suspense to float any dozen traditional and conventional Hollywood thrillers. But it's Raymond J. Barry's phenomenal performance as Walter Ohlinger that makes the film even more riveting. Simply put, he's magnificent. It would have been simple enough to portray Ohlinger as little more than a paranoid old coot who may or may not be telling the truth. But Barry's performance is thoroughly chilling, structured and mannered yet tense and unstable. From watching his bravura portrayal, one gets the impression that Ohlinger was a simple man whose passion and ardor for life died years ago. The more you watch and learn about Ohlinger, the more you find yourself feeling both pity for and fear towards the man. It's a compelling, powerful portrayal, one that will stay with you long after the film ends.


The video is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Filmed mostly using handheld cameras, Interview With The Assassin features an intentional "low-budget documentary/videotape" look, and the DVD sports an accurate reproduction of the film's visual style. Colors are strong and adequately rendered, with some occasional oversaturation and an unnatural feel that seems to be intentional. Sharpness and image detail is decent, with some occasional softness which again is inherent within the "videotaped" look and feel of the film. My only real complaint about the video is noticeable haloing throughout the picture, but overall the video presentation is solid and pleasing.

The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural, and the overall reproduction is satisfying and adequate. Again, to maintain the "documentary" feel of the film, you won't find aggressive surround or directional effects. What you will find is a decent rendering of the dialogue without any hiss, distortion, or thinness.

The Extras
The final release of the DVD will contain a feature-length audio commentary by writer/director Neil Burger. Unfortunately, my screener copy did not include the commentary so I cannot comment upon it. Also included are several text pages of Production Notes and a list of Suspicious Deaths. The latter section lists and details the numerous strange, sudden, and mysterious deaths of dozens of people and witness associated with the Kennedy assassination. Creepy stuff. The film's trailer is also included, although for some strange reason it is only accessible as a "forced trailer" before the movie starts. In other word, when you select the "Play Movie" option from the Main Menu, you must first see the film's trailer before the movie begins. And you can't skip through it or past it, either. I hope this is rectified before the final release of the DVD, as it's incredibly annoying.

Final Thoughts:
Interview With The Assassin is an infuriatingly creepy film. Although the line it paints between reality and fantasy (i.e. is it "real" or is it "fiction") sometimes comes off as broader than it should be -- Barry's performance is chillingly effective, as are those of many other performers, but some people are clearly "acting" -- the message is delivered as clear as daylight. And then there's that epilogue... *shiver* Nonetheless, this is a powerful, affecting thriller, a taut and compelling piece of filmmaking that deserves to be seen by suspense-film fans everywhere. The DVD features a satisfying reproduction of the film, and while I did not have access to the commentary track, the array of extras should be enticing to fans of the film. Recommended!

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