Every so often, a filmmaker dreams up a use for digital video that’s so clever it’s seductive, a way of getting us to accept the uncanny where we might not otherwise. The most famous example, of course, is ”The Blair Witch Project.” Neil Burger’s Interview With the Assassin couldn’t have a more different subject – it’s a JFK assassination movie, steeped in tense paranoia – yet it uses a faux-documentary camcorder aesthetic in the same way ”Blair Witch” did, to create a feeling of horrific revelation lurking just outside the frame.
Early on, Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty), a schlumpy, unemployed TV reporter, is contacted by his neighbor, who says that he has a confession to make. Looking into Ron’s camera, the neighbor, a silver-haired former Marine sniper named Walter Ohlinger, announces that he was the legendary second gunman on Nov. 22, 1963, and that it was his bullet that killed Kennedy. Ohlinger is played by Raymond J. Barry, a little-known character actor who inhabits this formidable, dead-eyed operative – think Clint Eastwood meets Jack Kevorkian – with an untheatrical conviction that makes him seem exactly what he says he is: a sociopathic military cipher who was hired to kill the president and did so without flinching.
The sequence in which Ohlinger, standing behind the fence of the grassy knoll, retraces his part in the assassination step-by-step can only be described as great JFK-conspiracy obsessiana. But if Ohlinger killed Kennedy, who contracted him to do it? The threads lead back to his former Marine commander, whom Ohlinger and Kobeleski spend the rest of the film trying to track down. ”Interview With the Assassin” turns into a verite enigma-thriller, the pieces of which are more gripping than the finished puzzle. The film’s best trick is the way that it treats conspiracy as a kind of political ”Blair Witch,” a monstrous murk that haunts us precisely because it can never be seen.