Director and co-screenwriter Oliver Stone pulls off an amazing filmmaking feat with JFK, transforming the dry minutiae of every John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory of the past three decades into riveting screen material.
Stone's story revolves around New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's (Kevin Costner) unsuccessful 1967 prosecution of local businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for complicity in Kennedy's murder. Shaw's exact connection, even in the film, is hazy at best. But Garrison uses Shaw's trial
mostly as a pretext to advance his own theory that Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) was only one of several gunmen involved in the assassination and that he probably, as he claimed at the time of his arrest, never fired a single shot.
It's a measure of Stone's forcefulness as a filmmaker that he struck raw nerves across the political spectrum with a film that, in substance, did little more than dust off an accretion of well-worn conspiracy theories, most of which have been in circulation since the days following the
assassination itself. Partly as a result of the film's impact, legislation was introduced into Congress in March of 1992 in an attempt to secure the release of FBI, CIA, and government files relating to the assassination which had previously been ordered sealed until 2029. That, however, is far
from the most extraordinary thing about JFK.
Imagine a three-hour-plus epic that jettisons any recognizable dramatic structure, as JFK does, in favor of almost non-stop dialogue exposition and ends, not with a bang, but with an extended courtroom monologue and the hero's inglorious defeat, and you would normally have a surefire formula for
failure. But JFK succeeds, partly thanks to a taut and intelligent script, and partly because the central investigation is spiced up by a series of key witnesses, each of whom injects the film with color and life; Pesci, Jones, and Kevin Bacon give particularly good performances. Stone's
rapid-fire recreations and dramatizations of possible events also help keep things moving. But it is the director's evident passion to expose the deepest, darkest elements at work in society that really makes JFK come alive.
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