JFK: A Mini-Review by Joel Copling

**** (out of ****)
Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek.
Directed by Oliver Stone. Written by Stone and Zachary Sklar, based on the book by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs.
Rated R. 201 minutes. 1991.

Note: This mini-review is based on a viewing of the director’s cut of JFK.

The late, great Roger Ebert once said, “I don’t have the slightest idea whether Oliver Stone knows who killed President John F. Kennedy,” and that pretty much sums up my own thoughts on the matter. Oliver Stone’s JFK is, purely, simply, and truly, an examination of so-called “facts,” a conclusion that those facts are likely made of whole cloth, and a hypothesis that fills in the gaps with what Stone believes are probably the events. He is imparting truth here, not procedural facts about the killing of the 35th President of the United States of America. He tackles, through his protagonist Jim Garrison, the man on whose book (co-written by Jim Marrs) Stone’s screenplay (co-written by Zachary Sklar) is based and who is played by Kevin Costner, the facts of the assassination as provided to the American public by the government who investigated it. Garrison finds damning evidence in every nook and cranny, as witnesses and accomplices are killed with impunity and under curious circumstances or otherwise bought to keep silent, a series of connections are uncovered between the American government, the Dallas Police Department, and the branch of the Dallas mob that resided in the metroplex, and supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt begins to appear increasingly coincidental. The footage of the actual shooting, captured by onlooker Abraham Zapruder, establishes, rather unexpectedly, evidence of more than one rifle used in the crime. A mysterious former military man lays the groundwork for Kennedy’s assassination at the feet of a U.S. government that desires war for financial viability. Stone’s most monumental achievement lay in Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia’s editing, which makes sense of the labyrinthine investigation laid out before Garrison, and in the astounding cast: Costner, sympathetic as Garrison; Tommy Lee Jones, superbly indifferent as primary defendant Clay Shaw; Gary Oldman, adopting Oswald’s unique vocal inflection and affording great humanity to a man seen around the world as a villain; Joe Pesci, a bundle of nerves as getaway pilot David Ferrie; Sissy Spacek as Liz Garrison, increasingly tired of her husband’s seeming obsession with the assassination; Jay O. Sanders, Michael Rooker, Wayne Knight, Gary Grubbs, and Laurie Metcalf as Garrison’s army of investigators; Donald Sutherland, fascinating in his single-sequence appearance as “X,” the mysterious whistle-blower later identified as Fletcher Prouty, who offers crucial points in Garrison’s investigation; Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, and John Candy, all solid as various figures within the investigation itself. The film weaves in, around, and through the varied ways that Oswald could not have acted alone. This, Garrison and the film reckon, was a conspiracy, and the result was a murder of great mystique, political expediency, and, worst, arrogance that led a consortium to believe a story with this many holes would survive scrutiny.

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