Continuing with the 44 Days of Paranoia, we today take a look at one of the best films to have been inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 2002’s Interview With The Assassin.
Interview With The Assassin tells the story of Ron (Dylan Haggerty), a cameraman who, at the beginning of the film, has recently lost his job. His gruff neighbor, an ex-Marine named Walter (a brilliantly menacing Raymond K. Barry), approaches Ron and tells him that he’s dying of cancer and he wants Ron to film him confessing to a crime. After Ron sets his camera up, Walter proceeds to state that he was the second gunman and that he — and not Lee Harvey Oswald — was the sniper who killed President Kennedy. When Ron asks Walter who hired him to kill Kennedy, Walter says that he was approached by a man named John Seymour but that he’s not sure who Seymour was working for.
Ron, not surprisingly, is initially skeptical of Walter’s claims. However, Walter gives Ron a spent shell casing that he claims he grabbed off the ground after he shot Kennedy. Walter explains that the only reason he’s been allowed to live is because he has that shell casing and, therefore, can prove that there was a second gunman. Ron gets the shell casing analyzed and is informed that it was probably fired in 1963.
Still skeptical but now intrigued, Ron agrees to make a documentary about Walter and his claims. Walter and Ron drive across the country to find John Seymour and confront him. Along the way, they stop in Dallas and Walter shares more of his memories of killing Kennedy.
As Ron becomes more and more convinced that Walter is telling the truth, he also finds himself becoming more and more immersed in Walter’s secretive and fatalistic worldview. However, as their paranoid road trip continues, Ron also starts to find reasons to doubt whether or not Walter is telling the truth about anything. It all leads to a genuinely surprising finale that forces us to reconsider everything that we had previously assumed about both Ron and Walter.
I usually hate found footage films but Interview With The Assassin is a wonderful exception. In his directorial debut, Neil Burger (who would later direct the brilliant Limitless) makes good use of the faux documentary format. As opposed to many other found footage films, Interview With The Assassin actually provides a believable reason for why the characters are filming everything and, even more importantly, it’s willing to both explore and question the motives of the man holding the camera. As a result, even though he spends much of the film off-screen, Ron becomes as interesting a character as Walter.
The genius of Interview With The Assassin is to be found in the film’s ambiguity. While the film creates a believable atmosphere of conspiracy and paranoia, it also forces the viewer to interpret what she’s seen and heard for herself. Is Walter crazy or is he telling the truth? Is Ron a hero trying to uncover the truth or is he a frustrated journalist who is exploiting a dying and mentally disturbed man? Convincing arguments can be made for any of those interpretations as well as a dozen more. I’ve seen the film a handful of times and I’m still conflicted on just how I feel about both Walter’s claims and the initial assumption that Ron is meant to be the film’s hero.
Interview With The Assassin is a film that invites its audience to think. As a result, it’s a film that deserves to be seen.