#262 JFK

(1991, Oliver Stone)
“Telling the truth can be a scary thing sometimes”

Let’s talk conspiracy theories. Did you know we’re all secretly ruled by lizard men who staged 9/11 using holograms and faked the moon landing so that Buzz Aldrin could have a toy named after him 30 years later? Don’t you know that we’re all the pawns of an ongoing war between the Templars and the Assassins and that Obama has a gun that shoots tornadoes because…profit? God, sheeple, open your eyes!

No, not really, unless you believe some of the crackpots in certain corners of the Internet. But while many of those conspiracy theories are pretty nutty, one conspiracy continues to fascinate and baffle many, 50 years on – the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States.

JFK is a movie that presents the conspiracy as being true. Following Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), a district attorney who is suspicious of the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) killed JFK (John F. Kennedy, archive footage) and sets out to discover what really happened. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy involving the CIA and the mob and various other organisations who wanted Kennedy dead, putting him in the line of fire and putting strain on Garrison’s marriage.

JFK had great potential to be an awesome film. It could have been a tense political thriller filled with drama and mystery, and could have provided an alternate interpretation to real events and make the viewer question everything and be a cracking piece of cinema.

What we got was Interviews & Stock Footage: The Movie. This was a History Channel documentary on the JFK conspiracy stretched out for way too long and forgetting how to pace itself well.

For at least the first half of the movie, we get scene after scene of Costner interviewing a huge number of people, and these people don’t half go on a bit. The events of November 22, 1963 are recounted in painstaking detail over and over to the point where you feel like you need to keep notes.

And that’s the main problem with JFK. While Oliver Stone’s attention to detail is to be commended, the long infodumps that result from this are not. The movie bombards the viewer with facts and figures and dates and conflicting viewpoints and never lets up. The information is rarely filtered down to the key parts or used in any meaningful way beyond being simply chucked at us all the time.

What’s worse is that I’ve seen documentaries on the subject that manage to be more concise, more entertaining and more genuinely informative than this big-budget re-enactment. If they could condense the facts down to a decent length and presentation with the limitations a backwater TV budget, why couldn’t this movie do the same?

That’s not to criticise the presentation entirely. The recreations of places and people of the time are meticulous, and there are some fine performances on show here from pretty much everyone. This was to be expected with the pretty impressive cast on offer, from Tommy Lee Jones to Gary Oldman to Sissy Spacek, but it’s especially impressive that they all came together so well.

Mostly. Joe Pesci struggled to maintain a Southern accent, often reverting to his natural accent when angry (and therefore sounding like every other character he’s ever played), and looked like a slightly deformed version of the lead singer to forgotten novelty band The Cartoons. Kevin Costner was worse, often coming across as flat and boring, and with an accent that slipped a lot more than Pesci’s did, often for no reason at all. Clearly 1991 was a bad year for Costner and accents.

There was also a lack of tension for much of the movie. Aside from an endless string of interviews early on, the governmental threats discussed throughout the movie rarely seem to materialise, often leading to lots of discussion of shadowy vagueness that threatens everything, but no actual on-screen presence for this shadowy vagueness. That’s right, boys and girls, they’ve ignored our old friend Show Not Tell and made a movie that plods along expecting us to believe they’re under threat, but never once feels like there is one.

Essentially, JFK is a slog of a movie that spends three hours telling us things but doing so in a way that fails to be entertaining or interesting. It’s a bloated, unfocused ramble from a guy on a street corner who believes Dallas Airport houses aliens or something. There’s interest to be had in the JFK conspiracy theories, it just can’t be found here.

Starring Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders & Sissy Spacek
Written by Jim Garrison (book – On The Trail Of The Assassins), Jim Marrs (book – Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy) and Oliver Stone & Zachary Skylar
Produced by Oliver Stone, Arnon Milchan & A. Kitman Ho
Music by John Williams
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Edited by Joe Hutshing & Pietro Scalia

Favourite Scene: The assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald was re-created rather excellently.
Scene That Bugged Me: The realisation that half the movie is just monologues.

Watch it if: You like long infodumps about JFK
Avoid it if: You can find a more condensed documentary on the subject

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Posted on February 27, 2014, in 1990s, Biopic, Historical, Political and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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