(USA 1991)

by Mike Lorefice & Vanes Naldi

Cast: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, Walter Matthau, Jay O. Sanders, Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland, Wayne Knight, Vincent D' Onofrio, Edward Asner, John Candy, Lolita Davidovich, Frank Whaley
Genre: Drama
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Zachary Slar, based on "On the Trail of the Assasins" by Jim Garrison & "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy" by Jim Marrs
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Composer: John Williams
Runtime: 206 minutes

"What is past is prologue" - statement that rolls just before the end credits of JFK

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Mike: The above statement pretty much sums up what Oliver Stone has done here. JFK is a conspiracy theory, but it's not about what percent of it is true, and frankly anyone who knows is either dead or wouldn't tell you. Stone has not made this film to draw conclusions. His movie plays with facts and the time line a least little bit, but that is hardly relevant because the meaning is in the symbolism. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) is the centerpiece and hero because he's the only one that set something in motion to try to get to the bottom of the outrage. Stone is looking to inspire the next Jim Garrison and to motivate the public to do something to prevent such an abomination from ever happening in our country again.

The brilliance of JFK is how Stone and co. have combined years and piles of information into a cohesive, very understandable, and incredibly intriguing 3 plus hour film which conveys the public sentiment that our government has somehow screwed us. The film whizzes by, bombarding our senses with fancily pieced together flashbacks, real and recreated documentary footage, footage of every size and medium, color, black and white, grainy, blurred, and distorted images, even unsteady shots. The non-linear web Stone weaves to pull it all off sometimes seems nearly as complex as the web that was weaved to deceive the American public, but somehow it all sets the mood of the piece without losing us in the grand production.

The cinematography of Robert Richardson and editing of Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia are outstanding, but there's another big reason everything is so vivid. Stone has assembled a virtual whose who of actors. You have Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Lemon, Walter Mathhau, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, and so on. These are people who can make their presence felt even in small roles, and none of them are wasted.

The standout is Pesci. He looks absolutely ridiculous with the worlds worst toupee and these eyebrows "that look like a buzzard," but is wonderful as a defrocked homosexual priest turned army nut. He gives you his over caffeinated profanity laced tirades and some of the most ridiculous lying, but the main thing is he has you glued to your seat every minute he's on the screen. He's possibly one of the original conspirators and the driver of a getaway mobile, the only person remotely involved that shows remorse, but we believe this conspiracy reaches way above him. "Who did the president, who killed Kennedy, fuck man! It's a mystery! It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma! The fuckin' shooters don't even know! Don't you get it?!"

Although he's only in the film for about five minutes, the key performer is Donald Sutherland as former high ranking government official X. In a reasonable, intelligent, and thought provoking performance he drives home what is really important about Kennedy's death. "Well that's the real question, isn't it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia. Keeps 'em guessing like some kind of parlor game, prevents 'em from asking the most important question, why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?"

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Kevin Costner is well suited for this role. He can very effectively portray a people's man with great passion, stubbornness, and conviction without losing his cool or going over the top. The scenes with his wife Liz Garrison (Sissy Spacek) and his family are highly effective because they put into perspective the sacrifices he made in taking the work of the nation on his shoulders. Whatever you think of Garrison, and his reputation took colossal hits for this investigation, his obsession to find whatever measure of the truth he ultimately found cost him a lot. This is an important point because Stone is very honest in showing what you are setting yourself up for if you try to search for the truth, stand up for what is right.

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Stone is the right director for the film because he loves to create a whirlwind of emotion and cause a ton of controversy. It's hard to find a more controversial topic than the JFK assassination, but Stone, who can certainly be guilty of this, doesn't beat us over the head here. He does not intend for us to remember all that he presents or probably even the majority of it; it's all about the feel, the obsession with unearthing the truth and the frustration that it's conveniently and conspicuously been made seemingly impossible.

JFK is a film that broods and stirs intense passion and emotion. It traps it all inside us because we don't know who to lash out against, the Mafia and/or what branches of our government or Cuba's or Russia's. We know it wasn't Lee Harvey Oswald in the Book Depository with a lousy rifle. Stone is not telling you who to release your energy, anger, and frustration on, he's challenging you to define your own positive release that could try to bring about change and prevent the reoccurrence of such atrocity.

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Vanes: Not being American, I'm not so emotionally attached to the assassination, at least not in the same way Americans are. I really haven't read too much about it, so I only know the story in big, general lines. I wouldn't really know if the film was perfectly accurate historically speaking, but frankly, I wouldn't care. This is such a masterpiece of editing, of putting together old material and making it mean as much 10 years after it was released. It's a great film because it doesn't portray exactly what happened, but what COULD have happened.

The script is so believable, interesting, and intricate yet easy to follow from MINUTE ONE until the finish. It grabs you by the throat and never releases. The tension is really important here. It's built not so much by the happenings, the murders, but the fact that the government will get away with this and everything Garrison worked on in a way is for naught. One minute Garrison might have the evidence to help him win the case, but the next minute someone pulls "a trick," such as killing the informer, that changes the cards so Garrison can't use the "proof" in court.

The score, by the usually amazing John Williams, is really effective. It's quite different than his usual work with Spielberg; he normally composes music that can stand on its own. For instance, the main theme of "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and most of the sub-themes are just as beautiful without the help of the film. In JFK, Williams uses the film to create a dark, dramatic feeling. Most of the score is used to emphasize moments of the film, like the motorcade. What really stands out is the solo performance by one of the greatest trumpet players of the modern era, Tim Morrison. He's the same who performed solo acts for Born on the Fourth of July, Apollo 13, Amistad, and Nixon. He's surrounded by the great Boston Pops, and together with Williams, they help the soundtrack rise and deliver quality.

Certainly, accusations of Stone building this as a propaganda piece, changing the facts to make the film more compelling, might be true, but someone a long time ago said "the end justifies the means." The end result is an amazing, almost hypnotic work of art that never ceases to be surprising (there are many familiar events, but you don't know when and how they'll come into play) without falling into the overkill department. The story has so many subplots, so many characters, and so much information. Everything from the music to the editing to the acting comes together into one cohesive unit that delivers the message. It might not be the full story, but what makes you think the truth is much different? Why is the government "protecting" the files that would at least answer some of our questions?

There have been other films about public scandals, but I have yet to find one as intriguing as this, probably because it doesn't get much better than JFK. Everything climaxes memorably with Stone essentially asking us "have you learned anything from what you've seen? Anything about the place where you live, the people who should protect your families and grant you safety? Are you ready to feel comfortable knowing something as colossal as this murder happened and so many years later there's still such a heated debate over it, while the government officials that may have been involved are still safe? It makes you think, and does so in a way that might challenge your preconceptions about politics and political conduct in the US of A. It's definitely not a positive film about the role of government in a country. However, it helps people understand that mistake, that scandal could come back because of the way it was handled, and next time it might even be more difficult to unveil.

Sadly, many people based their view of this film solely on the "historical accuracy." That is as flawed as going to a museum to see a Picasso and expecting him to perfectly recreate realistic human shapes. The real meaning of art is to provoke your imagination, to make you shape your own view based on what you see. It's not about if it's perfectly accurate. By building the material gathered over the years into a wonderful story that climaxes in a perfect way, Stone has satisfied my needs. It's a great thought provoking morality play on what a government can become not a documentary on the life of JFK like some people expected and wanted it to be. A classic.

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