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With a View to a Kill: Raymond J. Barry plays Walter Ohlinger, a presidential assassin, in Neil Burger's mockumentary.

Troll From the Knoll

The second gunman surfaces in 'Interview With the Assassin'

By Richard von Busack

MY ASSASSINATION of John F. Kennedy in 1963 was a prodigious feat for a 5-year-old, but I modestly hope that my later achievements have surpassed it. His philandering, his publishing of ghostwritten material and his bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war was bad enough--I trust that he learned the price of dissing my mama. The mockumentary Interview With the Assassin purports to tell a different--and just as likely--story of the second gunman. This shot-on-digital-video feature shares some of the faults of The Blair Witch Project: sea-sickness-inducing camera angles, a story that outruns its length. But it also shares some of Blair's virtues: fine casting, the thrill of stuff hovering just out of the range of the lens, the teasing potential for truth in the fiction.

In Neil Burger's film, an elderly ex-Marine in San Bernardino named Walter Ohlinger (Raymond J. Barry) reveals himself to his neighbor, a recently laid-off TV news cameraman (Dylan Haggerty). The old man proposes to tell the true story of the hit on Kennedy. Walter--terminally ill with cancer--claims that he was the second gunman on the infamous grassy knoll. He agrees to take the inexperienced would-be photojournalist on a tour of Dealey Plaza. But though Walter demonstrates how he escaped, he can't provide a motive. He was a numb hired gun; frankly, he couldn't care less why Kennedy was shot. As the two men try to track down the man who hired Walter, the story starts to crack. The assassin's ex-wife (played deftly by the actor and acting coach Kate Williamson) denies knowing anything about Walter's secret. She hints that he spent time in the mental hospital.

The visit to the fatal plaza is a chiller, with an X marking the spot in the asphalt where the assassination occurred, and the scenes of Washington, D.C., look like Mordor in winter. Barry is thoroughly convincing, a cross between Michael Rooker and the elderly Joseph Cotten. But the problem in the film is right where you'd expect. It's a wonderful idea, but how do you end the story?

The press notes pump up the fear by printing a list of those who died after the assassination (a gimmick also used in the 1973 film Executive Action). There are grounds for fear--note that one Jim Koethe, a reporter who was in Jack Ruby's apartment on Nov. 24, turned up dead from "a blow to the neck." But naming some of the later fatalities--poor old doddering Rose Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover--is truly hippopotamatic water-muddying. "Decide for yourself whether these deaths are purely coincidental," advises the list. Read that sentence in the voice of Dale Gribble from King of the Hill to get its full effect. Released on the 39th anniversary of the shooting, Interview With the Assassin recalls not only the unsolved killing but the coverup that followed.

Interview With the Assassin (Unrated; 88 min.), directed by written by Neil Burger, photographed by Richard Rutkowski and starring Raymond J. Barry, Dylan Haggerty and Kate Williamson, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the November 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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