JFK — CLASSIC FILM PICK
Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1992) is a milestone filmic achievement based on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Garrison’s tireless inquiry resulted in the indictment and 1969 trial of Clay Shaw — known as “Clem Bertrand” in the New Orleans gay underground where he held court with the likes of Lee Harvey Oswald during the summer of 1963. With the aid of co-screenwriter Zachary Sklar, Oliver Stone builds the fact-based drama toward Bertrand’s trial to complete this film’s appropriately tempered thematic arc.
In the best performance of his career, Kevin Costner expresses Jim Garrison’s keen sense of personal integrity to shed essential light on a carefully orchestrated murder whose executioners will likely only be discovered long after the last one has died.
Jim Garrison’s book “On the Trail of the Assassins,” and Jim Marrs’s “Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy,” provides the source material that Oliver Stone deftly manipulates with cinematic finesse.
A clip from Eisenhower’s famous 1961 farewell address, during which he warns of the military-industrial complex, sets the tone. The unknown distances between conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts create a wormhole that would have easily have swallowed a lesser filmmaker.
Stone shores up a veritable sea of conspiratorial facts (linked to the C.I.A., the F.B.I. the Secret Service, the U.S. military, and the Dallas Police Department) with a condensed cinematic rendering that does much more than just put names to faces.
The filmmaker contextualizes a “coup d'état” that was as devastating to American foreign policy as the murder of their 35th President was to its citizens.
Gary Oldman’s spot-on portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald shows the nimble CIA operative to have fit the bill of a patsy, the word that Oswald used to describe his detention to television cameras.
Systematic mishandling of evidence by the CIA, the Secret Service, the F.B.I., and by Dallas Police recur at a staggering rate. The CIA’s rerouting of Kennedy’s procession path at 11pm on the night before, to go past the crow’s nest-ready book depository reeks like week-old tuna.
Having served in battle in Viet Nam, the veteran soldier Stone has explained from his own experience in the military, it would take four cells of eight “mechanics” (a total of 32 agents) charged to carry out a mission they don’t comprehend until the last possible second. As with firing squads where all but one are firing blanks, none of the could-be assassins would even know if he fired the kill shot.
As more facts become known about the Kennedy assassination — through investigations such as the one performed in the documentary “JFK: The Smoking Gun” Oliver Stone’s “JFK” remains an important touchstone. Stone pulls out every trick in his arsenal of cinema vocabulary. The result
is a fitting cinematic tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and to Jim Garrison, two men cut from the same cloth of personal accountability.
Rated R. 189 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)