For my Oliver Stone marathon, I thought I’d first review perhaps his greatest work and perhaps most controversial, JFK. JFK has received much criticism over the years of what’s been painted as true or what’s been painted false and gave audiences the idea that Stone was a conspiracy theory nut. But JFK is a great film that manages to be one of the best historical pictures ever made. Oliver Stone is one of my favorite director and his best films all convey the sense or array and confusion that went on in the 60s, a time of transition for America. There was the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Space Race. JFK begins early in the 60s and takes the audience out of the decade with one of the most memorable conclusions in motion picture history.
JFK begins by giving audiences an overview of John F. Kennedy and what he did as president, spanning from his debate against Nixon, his policy on Vietnam, and his reaction of the Cuban missile crisis. Stone then gives the audience a recreation, made of actual footage and some Stone shot himself, of the president riding down Dallas back on November 22, 1963 when he is assassinated. The viewer knows what happens next. Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) is accused of killing Kennedy, which he denies and declares he’s a patsy. All the sudden he is killed, leaving a big hole in the story of Kennedy’s death.
How could Oswald have done this just by himself? One man certainly couldn’t have accomplished all of that. This is what Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the district attorney of New Orleans, believes and sets out to discover. Like Richard Dreyfus’ Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Garrison seeks the truth. He believes that people have a right to know what really happened on that fateful day. His wife Liz (Sissy Spacek) doesn’t want Garrison to do this and believes he’s endangering his family. But Garrison wants to make a world where his children can know the truth, where facts are detained.
Stone then takes the viewers through Garrison’s multiple theories. Garrison meets David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), who may have been Oswald’s get away driver, Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), a suspected C. I. A. operative who may be hiding some secrets of the assassination, and multiple witnesses all giving different accounts of the shooting.
This has also attracted much criticism. Many detractors claim that Oliver Stone has just jumbled multiple theories together and it’s difficult for the viewer to comprehend the story. True, there are many parts of the film which are hard to follow, but I believe this is Stone’s intention. Stone floods the audience with theories and wants them to put the pieces of the puzzle together with Garrison. He brings the viewer into the shoes of Garrison and gives an understanding of Garrison’s urges and why he wants to uncover this conspiracy.
Another criticism of JFK is that it distorts the truth, that it makes accusations that are far from believable, that Oliver Stone has no evidence to back his film up. But what they ignore are the reasons why what’s so intriguing about the conspiracy. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it’s obvious that something is not right with the Warren Report. I have no idea how much of the movie is true and how much is fiction and personally I don’t think it matters to much. The movie’s purpose is to make the audience question the case and to provide the possible answers for it.
What makes JFK such a great piece of cinema is Oliver Stone. The director’s cut (which is what I watched) is almost three and a half hours long yet Stone keeps the audience on the edge of their seat throughout the entire film. He paces the movie magnificently, keeping it quick and sharp. The film is filled with the amazingly fast energy only Stone can accomplish. He and his editors Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia operate the movie swiftly. There’s no scene in the movie I thought was unnecessary or too long, a rarity in cinema.
The acting is fantastic as well. I have never been a fan of Kevin Costner, mostly because I hold a grudge against Dances with Wolves for beating out GoodFellas for Best Picture, but he is great in this movie. Costner adds the humanity and emotional conflict of Jim Garrison and allows the viewer to really connect to Garrison.
I can’t forget the rest of the cast. Tommy Lee Jones is great as Clay Shaw. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role but somehow lost (don’t ask me why). Joe Pesci gives a fanatical performance as Ferrie, which is about as psychotic as his role in GoodFellas and almost as great. I’d also like to credit Wayne Knight for his small part in the movie as one of Garrison’s team members. Fans of Seinfeld will surely recognize him in his role and in the episode “The Boyfriend,” the show parodies the Magic Bullet theory presented in the film.
The soundtrack by John Williams also helps the tense atmosphere of the film. Williams actually composed the score before watching the film, resulting in the movie being edited to the music. The soundtrack really captures the intensity of the film. Few other composers can capture this other than Williams.
JFK is one of the most thrilling films ever made and never slows down. Oliver Stone brings the viewer into the 60s and directs the film skillfully. While some critics question the movie’s factual evidence, I believe it to be a masterpiece.