November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The perpetrator: a man named Lee Harvey Oswald. But is it really as simple as it seems?
Whenever a big tragedy occurs, conspiracy theories seem to pop up at once. Take a look at recent tragedies, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or even AIDS. Why? Who knows. Perhaps people want to understand why something horrific could have happened, and the thought of it being caused by something simple makes them feel unsafe.
In any event, Oliver Stone’s “JFK” is a fascinating mystery that despite the “Director’s Cut” being almost 3.5 hours long, wastes no time. The story unfolds and unfolds and unfolds. It’s the kind of movie that if you look back at the beginning after you finish it, you’re suprised that the film started in such a different position.
The film starts with a few clips that seem random, but have greater resonance later on. Then it moves to the assassination (courtesy of the infamous Zapruder film), and various people’s reactions to it (which are surprisingly credible–most are horrified, although a few barflys say that he got what he deserved). Then it moves on to Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), a Louisiana district attorney. He remembers someone who went to Texas recently, and after a bit of questioning, he lets the man go. It isn’t until three years later when he meets Senator Long (Walter Matthau), who says there must have been a conspiracy. That’s when Garrison does some investigating. What he uncovers is a conspiracy that reaches the highest circles of power.
This is one of those movies where a second or third viewing is warranted. There’s just too much information in this film. One can get the gist of it, but it takes subsequent viewings to understand how each piece fits with the others.
The film is well-acted, and contains a large number of cameos. Kevin Costner is a very effictive lead in this type of role, so it’s no surprise that he’s as good as to be expected here. This is really Costner’s show; the cast is very large, but Costner is at the center. In movies where the cast is top-heavy with actors in bit parts, the movie can fall apart because it becomes all about the cameos. That doesn’t happen here; most of the actors are pretty good, particularly by John Candy who is delicious as the corrupt lawyer Dean Andrews.
Oliver Stone has never been known for subtlety; in fact, some of his later “dramas” have more cuts than Michael Bay’s recent films. Stone keeps this to a minimum, but with all the voiceovers, flashbacks and flashbacks of flashbacks, it does get a little excessive from time to time. This is especially problematic with a plot that is this narratively dense. Additionally, the final courtroom speech doesn’t quite work.
But “JFK” is a must-see for any lover of great drama, or a fascination with conspiracy theories.