A Review of JFK

So, who killed John F. Kennedy?  Was it the mafia?  The CIA?  Cubans?  Lyndon Johnson?  The FBI?  International Businessmen? The army who wanted a bigger presence in Vietnam?

Coming away from JFK, I have no idea.  As detailed and as rich as Oliver Stone is, he never answers that question in the films three hour running time.  One becomes convinced that everyone BUT Lee Harvey Oswald did the deed.  For all we know, Frank Sinatra was one of the gunmen who was angry because Kennedy took one of his songs to use on the campaign trail.

I am not going to explain the plot.  The words Stone and Kennedy should be adequate.  What I am going to do is give my two cents on teh whole premise. Everyone who reviews this movie seems to give their opinion on the whole conspiracy theory.  I guess this is as good a place as any to mention mine: Oswald acted alone.  People can examine the circumstances, the people who benefited, and the Zapruder film all they wish too.  When it comes to actual, physical evidence, they come up lacking.  No person has found a bullet casing on the grassy knoll.  No one can describe what the gunman looked like.  People discuss seven wounds on two people that could not have happened in three shots.  Yet it only takes two bullets to explain Kennedy’s wounds.  Dozens of people saw Oswald in the school book depository with a rifle.  Bullet casings were found in that room.  People have recreated his shot, explaining everything in the Zapruder film.  It is one thing to speculate.  It is another to look at the facts.  And the facts point to a sick man with military training and Communist sympathies.

Still, that does not kill the movie.  Stone embraces every single conspiracy theory imaginable.  But so what?  This is not, and never was meant to be, a documentary.  How does it stand up as a film?

Remarkably well is the answer.  Stone uses as many editing tricks as conspiracy theories.  Everything is in smoke or in shadow (“white is black, black is white”) .  The characters all fit into the plot wonderfully.  The switch to black and white feels like puzzle pieces that the viewer has to connect.  In terms of acting, Tommy Lee Jones and Joe Pesci are the stand outs.  They are caught up in the conspiracy, and at times one cannot help but feel pity for their characters.  Even if they had something to do with the murder, it obviously went bigger than them.  They feel remorseful, and defeated.  In fact, the whole cast is excellent, even actors (like John Candy) excel at roles you would never have expected them in.  Stone is obviously a very talented.  The film is never boring, and is so dense that it requires multiple viewings.

From that standpoint, I cannot recommend this enough.  It is a perfect “movie” in terms of what movies set to accomplish.  It is highly stylized with much substance to back it up.  It is smart, its acting brilliant, its editing seamless, and it’s cinematography astounding.

The problem is, Stone does not distance himself completely from the material.  As passionate as he is, I get the sense that sometimes he believes himself to be telling real history.  As can be easily shown, he is not.  And if he gives no indication in the film that it is meant to be taken as fiction.  Well, then, neither will I.  Stone’s grasp on history seems to be that the Vietnam War was a very poor idea for the nation and that it is proof that the U.S. is turning into a fascist state (a word he uses many times in the film).  The former is undeniable, the latter is a little more tricky to deal with.  After all, we have had three very prominent liberal politicians since the murder of JFK, with no secret conspiracy out there to over throw them.  Besides, if the conspiracy was so far reaching, why not eliminate Stone, Garrison, or Jim Marrs?  This is meant to be a revolutionary film that sets off a fire cracker rather than drops a bomb.  That is one of the biggest problems with Stone.  He always has something to say, but has no idea just how to convey his raw anger and energy at the U.S. government.  When he figures out how, it is powerful.  When he doesn’t (in, say, Natural Born Killers) it is a mess.  This film is right in between those two extremes.  There are times it works and times it doesn’t.

So, should I praise Stone the fraud or condemn Stone the truth seeker?  As many times as I have seen this film, I still don’t know.  That will ultimately be up to the individual viewer to decide.

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