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Controversial film plays loose with history, but remains a superbly crafted thriller

August 18, 2009

By Jimmy Gillman

Jimmy Gillman
Warner Brothers; 1991; 189 minutes (Director's Cut - 205 minutes); R, for sexual situations, strong, graphic violence, adult situations and strong language; Directed by Oliver Stone; Starring: Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Laurie Metcalf, Donald Sutherland, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, John Candy and Kevin Bacon; Screenwriter(s): Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar






By now, most moviegoers are familiar with the controversy surrounding director Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” his hotly debated film concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Hailed as both a cinematic masterpiece and an irresponsible exercise in revisionist history, the film advances a handful of possible conspiracy theories behind the death of America’s 35th chief executive. Those theories, and they are merely theories, although Stone gives them the weight of historical fact, involve everyone from the Mafia to Vice President Lyndon Johnson to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to disgruntled Cuban exiles (and others!) as the possible genesis of Kennedy’s eventual murder.

Consequently, taken as a depiction of events as they actually happened, “JFK” is a muddled failure; a conglomeration of maybes and possibilities for which there is only circumstantial evidence at best.

However, viewed purely as a cinematic exercise containing a narrative that symbolizes most people’s disbelief that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy, it is nothing short of a brilliant rendering, uncommonly powerful in both its visual tapestry and searing story, uniformly well performed by a superior cast of seasoned (and well known) actors.

Using a time-shifting structure, “JFK” is built around New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s years-long quest to prove precisely who was behind the killing of the president, a journey that pits him against sinister, shadowy players intent on concealing the truth; a conflict that places Garrison, his family and the lives of his assistants in real jeopardy.

Packed with action, subtext and numerous plotlines, “JFK” positively overflows with conjecture. But make no mistake about it—“JFK” also accurately captures, with absolute precision, the paranoia, horror, commotion, tragedy and surreal nature of what transpired in the weeks following November 22nd, 1963.

From beginning to end, “JFK” is superbly shot, written, edited and advanced in stunning detail and style, mixing grainy black & white sequences with vivid color representations of the people and places connected to the events. Speculative or not, the film remains the best projection of those dark days ever created in feature or documentary form.

Revisionist it may be, but if “JFK” fails to stand as a national record, it certainly serves as a potent and riveting reminder of just how easily a man’s life and a country’s optimism can be cut short.


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Film Grading Key

A+ Can't get any better

A Outstanding

A- Superior effort

B+ Very good

B Good

B- Still worth watching

C+ Strictly iffy

C Waste of time

In Memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

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