Interview with the Assassin

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/04/04 14:43:14

"Neat idea, horrible execution... pardon the pun."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The key to any mockumentary is its realism. Does each scene look convincing enough that a viewer not in the know might mistake it for an actual documentary? A handful of people were convinced “The Blair Witch Project” was the real deal, while a few others actually believed Spinal Tap to be a real band. It’s all in the attitude, the acting, and the convictions of the filmmakers, who must treat their stories as truth.

Failing all of these duties is Neil Burger, writer/director of “Interview With the Assassin.” The film purports to tell the story of Walter Ohlinger (played by Raymond J. Barry), a former Marine who now claims to be the man who shot John F. Kennedy, and Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty), the camerman hired to record Ohlinger’s confession. It could’ve been a great thriller, but not once does Burger create a believable moment.

The problem is in the dialogue, which always comes off as scripted and forced, never with the natural flow of real, “non-movie” speech. The problem is in the plotting, which clumsily opens the story up to follow the two around as they travel the country examining the proof behind Ohlinger’s claims. The problem is in the staging, which has convenient characters stumbling into frame at just the right time and cameras conveniently in use for just the right plot twist. The problem is in the acting, which always feels like acting, never like the real behavior of people in this situation.

It would have been chilling to see this as a sparse hour-long interview, with Ohlinger telling his story from his living room. It might have also worked to tell this in basic narrative format, not in documentary style, thus allowing Burger to not feel the need to tinker with a genre he doesn’t quite understand.

But as a mockumentary, it never works. We’re supposed to spend our time second guessing Ohlinger, wondering if he’s telling the truth or just insane. Instead, however, we spend our time thinking, “oh, that’s not real, that wouldn’t happen in a real documentary, people don’t talk like that.”

It’s not like we’d have much to watch if we’d pay attention anyway. Barry and Haggerty never manage to create interesting characters, while Burger’s plot fumbles around, looking to build suspense by having Ohlinger grow increasingly wacko. In the end, it’s a paranoid thriller that fails to produce paranoia in the viewer. A better filmmaker might have gotten better results from such a premise, but as it stands, “Interview” is a hokey, sloppy mess.

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