When I worked at U-92, our mid-day jock and my good friend, Al Cruise, was a huge Kennedy Assassination buff. He had hours, probably days worth of documentaries, shelves of books, and a zillion opinions.
He and I didn’t agree on everything regarding the assassination, but one area where we concurred is that Oliver Stone’s film “JFK” is brilliant. Hugely full of shit, but an awesome piece of filmmaking.
“JFK” is mostly based on “On the Trail of the Assassins,” by former New Orleans DA, Jim Garrison. Garrison was–and remains–the only prosecutor to bring a trial in the assassination of John Kennedy. Garrison charged New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw with conspiracy to murder the President.
See, Shaw supposedly also went by the alias Clay Bertrand, and was a homosexual who teamed up with the FBI, CIA, militant Cubans, the Mafia, and/or Las Vegas entertainer, Liberace.
Okay, Liberace wasn’t involved. Nor, if you believe “JFK,” was Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald, to believe this film, was a CIA operative whose time in the USSR was a spy mission. The CIA created Oswald, then set him up to be the fall guy for the JFK assassination.
I’ve seen this film probably 20 times in the 20 years since its release, and I still can’t see any logic in prosecuting Clay Shaw. Even if he had known Oswald during Oswald’s New Orleans summer, there’s never proof that Shaw was involved. At least not that I can see.
Last week, I wrote about “Judgment at Nuremberg,” which was a fictional story set in a real event. Oliver Stone isn’t saying this is the definitive truth about the JFK Assassination.
This is fortunate, since so much of “JFK” is demonstrably untrue. characters who never existed did things that never happened.
But what a freakin’ ride. This film is chockablock with amazing performances. Kevin Costner plays Jim Garrison. Sissy Spacek* is his wife. Jack Lemmon**, Joe Pesci*, Walter Matthau*, Tommy Lee Jones**, Lauri Metcalf***, Ed Asner*****, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, et al, are all brilliant. (The * represents an acting Oscar or Emmy, and I got bored before I finished looking them all up)
The Babe Ruth performance on this acting Murderer’s Row is from Donald Sutherland*, who plays “X,” a mysterious stranger who appears for a 15 minute scene, and explains all manner of chicanery, flimflammery, asshattery, you name it. It’s brilliant.
Even John Larroquette, winner of five Emmys and a Tony, has a five minute role as a talk show host.
There’s a lot of talk in “JFK,” a huge amount of talk. But the film is engrossing, sharp, and beautifully made.
Oh, John Candy is great too.
The factual liberties don’t take away from the film’s power and brilliance.
The main thing that detracts here is that the only version available on DVD is the Director’s Cut, an oxymoron if ever there was one: Stone took a 189 minute film, and added nearly 20 more minutes. Ironically, one of “JFK”s two Oscars?
Grade: A- (theatrical release)/B (Director’s Cut)