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Starring: Kevin Costner; Tommy Lee Jones; Joe Pesci; Gary Oldman; Kevin Bacon; Sissy Spacek; John Candy; Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland, Edward Asner
Details the actions of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who takes it upon himself to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. Garrison is extremely suspicious of the official story presented by the FBI, and what he already knows and what he subsequently learns lead him to suspect that there is more to the story than the public is being told.
Based on a true story – Jim Garrison, a New Orleans DA, charges Clay Shaw with conspiracy in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Oscar Wins: Editing; Cinematography
‘JFK’ was the most incendiary movie of 1991. It follows Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney and his office as they search for the truth about the Kennedy assassination. The nation and the world were in a state of shock after the killing. Chief Justice Earl Warren was asked to lead an investigation into the murder – the Warren Commission. After a lengthy process and 27 volumes the conclusion was that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone. (Oswald could not stand trial as he was murdered by Jack Ruby two days after the assassination.)
It may have been the sugar pill the country needed but Garrison could not swallow it. Although the assassination took place in Dallas Texas, Nov. 22; 1963, Oswald had New Orleans connections and Garrison felt free to begin his own investigation in 1966. Garrison and his team peel away layers of what seems a huge conspiracy. They haul in David Ferrie for questioning, played with ferocity by Joe Pesci.
To Garrison it appears Ferrie had worked with the CIA and Cuban nationals who felt betrayed by Kennedy after 'The Bay of Pigs' invasion: Trained assassins on the hunt for Castro who may have turned their sights on Kennedy. Then there is the mob and LBJ and the CIA... Shirley Temple is not implicated, but maybe they ran out of film. More leads point to Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) a prominent leader of the business and gay community -- an easier target. They don’t have much of a case and when Ferrie dies in suspicious circumstances it seems a shot in the dark to proceed, but proceed they do: charging Shaw with complicity in the Presidents murder.
Kevin Costner, at the height of his fame, plays Garrison, lending an irresistible weight to the argument – this is the good guy, right? After an amiable interview with Shaw, Costner nearly shouts to his team: “Did you see that? We got one of them.” When I first saw the film nearly two decades ago, I swear I did ‘see that’. Now I’m not so sure. Despite its 3.5 hour length the pace sizzles, the characters enthrall, and you can’t look away. JFK was nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture; Jones for his supporting role.
Garrison was in reckless pursuit of the truth – he may have needed to be. The case against Shaw, a decorated major of WWII, appears wildly flimsy at best. The jury acquitted him after only an hour’s deliberation. The case for conspiracy is another matter. Based on the facts presented and eye witness testimony it seems certain there was more than one gunman and at least one cover-up. Witnesses were bullied or died in convenient ways before they could testify. ‘JFK’ caused such a stir that it led to the ‘US Assassination Records Review Board’. All documents pertaining to the assassination must be made public by 2017.
The Stone, Zachary Sklar script, based on Garrison’s book ‘Trail of The Assassins’ and Jim Mars book ‘Crossfire’, was something utterly new for film. Literature had been rocked by the gonzo journalism of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson in the Sixties – a hybrid of fact and fiction, impossible to put down but never letting truth get in the way of good storytelling. But this was new for film. Before JFK there were docudramas but never on this scale or of this caliber. ‘JFK’ is an explosive, exhilarating blend of fact and fiction that can strain credulity.
The film does itself a disservice: by smearing the usual suspects with the taint of the weird and the queer – titillating party scenes featuring a cross-dressing Shaw and Ferrie only serve to relieve rather than incriminate: my god this is New Orleans – thank goodness somebody was having a little fun. Killing a president is enough for most of us: we don’t care who you sleep with or how you wear your rug – kill the president you’re pretty much poop. Stone has stated he was attempting to forge a counter-myth in response to the Warren Report. If so he succeeded: but like any myth with larger than life dimensions it risks believability.
Today a majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy. This wasn’t always true. (Before JFK anything but the tidy Warren report was considered heresy. Stone took an immense gamble – he was hung out to dry in much of the main stream press before the movie was shot.) But who’s conspiracy? A quick search on the net produces no less than ten viable theories; and there are many more. Any way you splice it JFK is remarkable film making – it moved the government to greater transparency – it pushed film editing with its genre busting mix into a new pulsating direction. The topic is too big for the feature length film format – but what Oliver Stone achieved with JFK, despite its flaws, is one of the most influential movies ever made.