Conspiracy theories are fascinating to explore. Whether it is about Area 51, the New World Order, or the Kennedy assassination, each one instills a sense of drama and intrigue where there is probably none. Sometimes I can’t help but get wrapped up in coincidental events that led to a national tragedy or mystery. Given the sheer amount of documentaries and even fiction films that explore conspiracy theories from many different angles, I am not the only one.
The conspiracy in this film is the grassy knoll and the event is the Kennedy assassination. An older man after almost forty years of silence decides to tell an unemployed cameraman that he was in fact the second shooter and he shot the fatal shot to the head. The rest of the film involves this older man and the cameraman trying to prove it is true while being “chased” by larger forces that want to silence the older man once and for all.
The maybe assassin is played by a character actor, Raymond Barry. He has been in films for a long time, but he hasn’t really done anything that you would remember, that is until you see this film. Playing an ex-marine, he gives off an air of manic uprightness every time he is on-screen. At any moment he might crack. My grandfather was in the Navy around the same time that this character was and he acts just like my grandfather (you know except for the craziness. My grandfather may be a lot of things but I know that he has never point an assault rifle at someone for enjoyment). He is stern, minimal in his expressions and dress, and has a sick sense of humor. In contrast to that is the cameraman. He is just a regular man wanting to be remembered for something. He realizes what a respected journalist he would become if he was the one to break the story of an actual second shooter. His curiosity is fueled by fame. He is willing to pay for everything including expensive ballistics tests, guns, plane tickets, accommodations, fancy camera equipment and several other things in order to crack the story and prove its validity. Whether or not he believes this old man is beside the question. If he can prove it than he doesn’t have to believe him because he will be too famous to care. As I write this I think that I am painting this cameraman as exploitative of this man’s life story, but he is just doing what people who become cameramen do… film. All he wants is a worthy subject and that subject is this weird man asserting that he was in the grassy knoll on that fateful day.
Found footage horror is kind of well-worn and tired genre these days. However in 2002 which is when this film was released (only a year after 9/11 and it features a scene where the maybe assassin brings a gun past security in the White House…) found footage was still a novel and interesting perspective. Everything is filmed through the cameraman’s lenses, whether it be his trusty camera, his security cameras, or his eyeglasses with a small camera chip in it. None of this is as intrusive as a Paranormal Activity or a Blair Witch Project where shaky cameras or odd placement of security cameras take you out of the film, but it does get frustrating when the story necessitates an action that would not involve him using a camera and yet there seems to be one awkwardly inserted into it. This is probably my biggest problem with the final confrontation scene. It seems weird to have a security camera in the living room of your own home, and yet in order for us to see the climatic moment there just has to be one there.
With the recent shootings in Aurora and several other national tragedies involving madmen with guns, I seem to find release and catharsis when watching dark films like these. It gives me an outlet to direct my rage, my sympathy and my wonder at how something like this might happen. I watch these films in order to realize that the shooter was just a man. Yes a deranged man who should have gotten help instead of reaching for a gun, but he is still a man, no better or worse than I am. That might seem controversial to say but I do think that and these types of films help me develop this thought process and not only feel for the victims but to feel for that sad angry young man.