JFK

jfkI saw Oliver Stone’s film about the various possible conspiracies around the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in the theater back when it came out, and I was absolutely blown away. I think it’s really easy for people to get sidetracked by political implications. (JFK was no saint! Oliver Stone is a big liberal! He digitally enhanced the Zapruder footage! What about the mob?!) If that leads them to dislike the film, that’s a shame. If it leads them to not see it in the first place, they are really missing out, I tell you.

The film starts with a hallucinatory and expertly edited montage describing the historical context in US geopolitics just prior to that November day. Stone very cleverly uses entirely real archival footage… until he starts to slip in some of his own footage. Slowly, history shifts from documentary to cinematic narrative. It’s hard to call it “fictitious”, since the events in the film are certainly based on, at the very least, the versions of events believed by some historians. But the use of this directed footage is in service of a dramatic interpretation, so it’s, by definition, not completely accurate.

After this overwhelming introduction, JFK is dead, and we cut to New Orleans, and Kevin Costner as the District Attorney, Jim Garrison. Costner is certainly more comfortable with this accent than his wobbly English one in Prince of Thieves, or his near-parody Boston accent in Thirteen Days. He’s a no-nonsense kind of a litigator, with a scrappy bunch of assistants, a long-suffering wife, and about a thousand kids. (Seriously, Jim, it’s called a condom!) It turns out that Lee Harvey Oswald had a pretty important connection to New Orleans, so Garrison and his team get into it.

The rest of the film follows his several year quest to prosecute just one guy who may have been involved in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. There’s a crazy amount of information thrown at the viewer, really pushing the limits of the medium of film, as far as I’m concerned. The script is remarkably well constructed, because we get these bits and pieces throughout the film, in suspect interviews (like with the exceptional Joe Pesci), in dinner-table talk, in dreamily lit scene were Garrison is just reading in his study. The use of “flashback”, if you assume the scenes that depict the theories expounded by the investigators are real, and not simply mind pictures, is invaluable in helping the viewer keep everything straight.

All this (including the standard “this quest is killing our marriage” subplot that I could have done without) is lead up to the actual court case again Clay Shaw, a fussy CIA agent played entirely against type by Tommy Lee Jones. Without repeating itself, the film ties everything together in an insane collection of sequences that tie to the witnesses and the closing arguments of the case. By the time Costner is finishing his final, exceptional speech, you can hear the hoarseness in his voice. He put himself through the ringer for this role.

Nothing I’ve seen Stone direct comes close to the enormity and effectiveness of this film. Definitely a Top Ten for me.

So, Kevin Bacon was in JFK with Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner was in…

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