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Nothing So Strange (review)

Truth Telling

It’s one of those days that we all remember vividly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news: December 2, 1999, when Bill Gates was assassinated in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park by Alek Hidell.

Or was it Hidell? Oh, we’re all familiar with the claim, that Hidell was a radical trying to start a class war, and that he took up a sniper’s position on the roof of the Park Plaza Hotel across the street from MacArthur Park. But of course Hidell is conveniently dead, shot by LAPD rookie Jacob Powell in the basement of the Park Plaza, so there will never be a trial, never be a chance to question Hidell about his motives. If indeed he even was the shooter at all. For the April 2000 report on the assassination from Los Angeles D.A. Gil Garcetti is thoroughly unsatisfying, ignoring important unanswered questions about the events of that day and raising new doubts about the investigation.
What? You say Bill Gates was not assassinated and is in fact still alive and well and continuing to rule the world from his lair in Redmond? Well, of course he is. But if you’d been in a coma for the last five years, and when you woke up your friends said, Man, you’ve got a lot to catch up on, you won’t believe everything that’s happened, and they sat you down to watch Brian Flemming’s Nothing So Strange, you’d have no question in your mind that Gates is dead and that no one knows for sure who pulled the trigger and what the assassin’s motive was.

There’s a powerful ring of truth to this perfectly modulated little film, a cleverly mounted and thoroughly plausible artifact dropped into our dimension from an alternate universe. Instead of attempting to produce an exhaustive look at the world after December 2, 1999, which would be impossible to pull off, Flemming brings the focus in tightly on one little advocacy group, Citizens for Truth, and their fight for answers. And in its smallness, in its faux documentary presentation, Nothing So Strange leaves you with the sense that we’re looking at but one tiny corner of that alternate world.

It’s a world not too far removed from our own, and the intense credibility of the film has nothing to do with Bill Gates — the film has little to do with him, in fact. We recognize this world, for it is ours, where the level of distrust in America, particularly distrust for our institutions charged with serving justice, is at an abysmal low. It’s a world of conspiracy theories and paranoia spawned by unbelievable “official versions,” whispered half-truths, and suspected truths, of police corruption that inevitably taints everything the police do. We’re so used to seeing grainy enlarged photos of unidentifiable suspects and shaky video evidence dismissed by the authorities and CGI walkthroughs of crime scenes and tape recordings of police interrogations sent anonymously to independent investigators that perhaps we don’t even know how to trust anymore.

But Nothing So Strange is also a portrait of obsession, so that for every eerie piece of the puzzle of the “official version” unraveled by Citizens for Truth, there are head-shaking moments in which you wonder if only people who are a little crazy, people who are their own worst enemies, can challenge the powerful. As the internal squabbles and politics of Citizens for Truth, as well as the astonishingly naive behavior of one of its members, threaten to take down the group and invalidate all its work, you’ll despair that the truth will ever be uncovered.

Except, of course, none of this is real. But it feels real, and hauntingly so. Damned if this isn’t one of the most chillingly convincing bits of fiction I’ve ever seen, like those moments you can’t remember if you dreamed them or actually experienced them. I can’t recommend Nothing So Strange highly enough: You can download it cheap at the official site, or you can buy a DVD there or at Amazon.com.

MPAA: not rated

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