JFK * * * * *
Director: Oliver Stone.
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Sissy Spacek, Donald Sutherland, John Candy, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Beata Pozniak, Sally Kirkland, Brian Doyle-Murray, Wayne Knight, Tony Plana, Tomas Milian, Gary Grubbs, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dale Dye, Bob Gunton, Sean Stone, Jim Garrison.
Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to biopics or documentaries covering the lives of influential or powerful people. He has looked into the lives of Vietnam veteran and political activist Ron Kovic in “Born On The Fourth Of July“; Jim Morrison, the lead singer of “The Doors“; military general and conquerer “Alexander” the great; Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in “Comandante” and two films on the exploits of American presidents Richard “Nixon” and George “W.” Bush. In the films mentioned, Stone explores the lives of these men but in “JFK” he does the opposite and explores the death of the man and in the process, crafts one of his most accomplished films.
In Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. The official explanation released by the F.B.I. doesn’t make sense and is very suspicious. As a result, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) decides to investigate and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy that may involve more than he could ever have imagined.
Oliver Stone has done his homework here and bombards the audience with facts, theories and reports from the media, interviews and eyewitness testimonies. He covers the history of events right across the board from the Bay of Pigs to the Warren Report via the questionable marksmanship of “lone gunman” Lee Harvey Oswald. Whether or not you agree with Stone’s theories is of little importance. What is of great importance is his ability to pose serious questions on one of the most tragic political events and biggest conspiracies in American history. It could easily come across that Stone (or Garrison) have all the answers but they don’t. This is a film that endeavours to get to the root of the truth. Many questions will remain unanswered but it’s also not the type of film that claims to provide them. Some information is pure speculation but the very place where Stone succeeds is his ability to instil debate. He welcomes it and the film is far more powerful because of it. It’s a tangled web that has been weaved and Stone deserves the utmost respect in tackling it head on. What’s most impressive though is that it’s never boring. With all the details, it could be in danger of losing the audiences attention but it doesn’t and this is thanks-in-large to editor’s Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing in skilfully piecing all the fragmented narrative strands together. They won an Oscar for their work and deservingly so. Another deserving Oscar winner was cinematographer Robert Richardson for his marvellous attention to detail in capturing the look and feel of the 1960’s. Amongst the the brisk pace and attention to detail is an abundant cast of quality actors and no matter how small the role, each of them get a chance to shine; Gary Oldman makes a perfect Oswald and other notable displays from Kevin Bacon, Joe Pesci, John Candy, Donald Sutherland and an Oscar nominated turn from Tommy Lee Jones as eccentric socialite, Clay Shaw. It’s Costner who is the main focus here though and he delivers a solid and determined performance. More importantly, he’s an appealing presence which is very much required when the film steps over the 3 hour mark. He captures the obsession of Garrison and in a lot of ways makes it our own; his dogged determination for answers reflecting ours. When all the dust has settled, the film culminates into a conventional court room drama but still remains riveting. It’s during this time – despite some already shocking revelations earlier in the film – that Stone finishes with aplomb and takes his chance to disclose some staggering pieces of information.
A conspiracy theorists dream, that may take some criticism for being hypothetical or one-sided but there’s no denying Stone’s bravery or his skill in encapsulating the paranoia and unrest at this time in history.