Though RUBY is bound to suffer in comparison to Oliver Stone's JFK in terms of sheer cinematic pizzazz, this largely fictionalized historical drama is nevertheless a quietly engrossing contribution to the Kennedy assassination myth. In its dreamy, elegiac mixing of history and fiction,
RUBY is closer in tone to E.L. Doctorow's works than to the muckraking tabloid antics of Stone's epic.
The film centers on Jack Ruby (Danny Aiello), the shadowy Dallas strip-club owner who emerged from obscurity just long enough to murder alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Willie Garson)--an image captured on nationwide television and indelibly stamped in our collective memories.
In the wake of his ascension to power, Fidel Castro has imprisoned Santos Alicante (Marc Lawrence), who had been in charge of the mob's casinos in Cuba. In fact, Castro's swift expulsion of the forces of gambling and corruption from Cuba has left the mob obsessed with killing him. Ruby, a
peripheral figure in the Mafia crime organization, is drawn closer to the nexus of power when another minor mob soldier fails--influenced by rogue elements within the CIA--to deliver exploding cigars for killing Castro. Taking on the assignment, Ruby goes to Cuba accompanied by his newest
discovery, Sheryl Ann Dujean (Sherilyn Fenn), renamed "Candy Cane," whom he stumbled upon in a Dallas bus terminal and now hopes to use to curry favor with Santos.
Upon his arrival, however, Ruby finds that the assignment is not to kill Castro but Santos. Ruby instead kills his handler and returns to the US. He's a hero to the Mob, but in deep disfavor with the CIA, particularly in the form of agent Maxwell (Arliss Howard), who offers Ruby the chance to
redeem himself by finishing his original assignment to kill Castro. It appears that Ruby has become a victim of yet another ruse, however, when it turns out that the real interest of the Mob and the CIA is in Candy, who becomes one of Kennedy's mistresses. The Mob wants Candy to deliver a message
to the President to call his brother, the Attorney General, off the Mafia so that they, with the CIA, can continue in their plot to kill Castro. When Candy refuses, she's sent back to Ruby, as events move toward the inevitable assassination of Kennedy and Ruby's killing of Oswald in hopes of
exposing the alliance between the mob and the CIA.
Less docudrama than melodrama, RUBY attempts to be a meditation on the loss of innocence symbolized by Kennedy's assassination. In the world according to British writer Stephen Davis (whose credits include the HBO production "Yuri Nosenko, KGB," and who is here adapting his play Love Field),
America's fall actually began long before the assassination. By 1963, the government has become a shadow body, accountable to no one and capable of unholy alliances with common criminals.
As portrayed by Aiello and Fenn, Ruby and Cane are two sides of the same coin. Both are tough, big-hearted outsiders who embody what is left of the American pioneering spirit. The difference is that Ruby clings to the old-fashioned values of loyalty and honor that prove to be his downfall, while
Cane is more modern, capable of making deals to fulfill her ambitions--though only up to a point.
Much of the thematic ground covered here by Davis has been covered better elsewhere. In fact, RUBY might have been better had it played even faster and looser with history. As it is, it comes most alive during its wildest flights of fancy, particularly in the scenes involving Howard's disturbingly
deranged CIA agent or Tobin Bell's quietly weird David Ferrie (making a nice contrast with Joe Pesci's hysterical Ferrie in JFK). Along the way, Fenn manages to bring real erotic heat to her modest striptease sequences, suggesting that RUBY might have benefitted from the broader, burlesque
approach of the similarly intentioned INSIGNIFICANCE.
Nevertheless, Davis, as he did in "Yuri Nosenko, KGB," manages to give the gray banality of government some eerie overtones, while director John Mackenzie (no stranger either to crime, in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, or espionage, in THE FOURTH PROTOCOL) makes the most of a talented cast. At its best,
RUBY is as surreal and haunting as JFK is viscerally wrenching, adding a minor yet respectable chapter to "the story that won't go away." (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Though RUBY is bound to suffer in comparison to Oliver Stone's JFK in terms of sheer cinematic pizzazz, this largely fictionalized historical drama is nevertheless a quietly engrossing contribution to the Kennedy assassination myth. In its dreamy, elegiac… (more)