JFK (1991)


Starring: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, Michael Rooker, Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf, Wayne Knight, Ed Asner, John Candy, Walter Matthau

Director: Oliver Stone

Summary: A New Orleans district attorney fights to uncover the truth behind President Kennedy’s assassination

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Jones), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound, Cinematography*, Film Editing*

*Note: I watched the theatrical cut (188 minutes) as opposed to the director’s cut (201 minutes) because that’s the version of the film the Academy voters would have seen*

Got a lot to say about this one. First the positives: 1) the cast is loaded and the performances are mostly good; and 2) the last 30 minutes are excellent from a cinematic standpoint, with the editing and cinematography working really well to build to a big dramatic climax.

The rest of the movie has numerous problems coming from seemingly every direction though. Right off the bat is the elephant in the room: the film’s massive, all-encompassing theory about the Kennedy assassination is largely unproven at best or total bullshit at worst. While many have been willing to overlook this problem with the movie, because “hey it tells a compelling story!”, after the last year we’ve had, don’t tell me the using the massive platform Stone had here to make explosive political allegations with little to no factual basis is not reckless or dangerous. Second, I can see why many in the LGBT community did not like this movie, as all the gay characters are portrayed in a pretty insulting fashion. Third, Joe Pesci’s pathetic attempt at play a Southerner is hilarious and distracting when he’s constantly dropping the accent.

However, the single biggest issue I have with this purely as a film is with basic storytelling, especially in the first two hours of the movie. During that portion of the movie, we really don’t have characters: instead, we simply have vessels who are there to vomit loads information in a constant stream at us, and vessels who are there to listen to that information (who exist only because you can’t just outright have characters monologuing directly to the audience). In this regard, it fails as a movie-sure it has intense editing and cinematography so that it feels like a movie, but we have no real character interactions or really anything outside of the movie describing in excruciating detail Oliver Stone’s personal theory about the JFK assassination. This feels more like a book than a film-more specifically, like something Ayn Rand wrote.

Compare JFK to two very similar movies: Z and All the President’s Men. In All the President’s Men, we had something besides scenes where they interview somebody to get information or talk with their associates about the facts of the investigation-we have the scenes with Robards and Balsam where Redford and Hoffman talk about whether they should run the stories, and these are vital. We also get scenes that develop the relationship between Redford and Hoffman, why they’re different, how they approach the investigation, etc. Z on the other hand was focused not just on the investigation behind the murder; in fact, there’s a lot of movie before we even have a reason for there to be an investigation, time which sets up the players and the situation in Greece at the time. Furthermore, the main tension of the second half of the movie is whether the investigator will put himself on the line and do the right thing and prosecute or whether he will find there’s no merit to the allegations of a military planned assassination, especially since he’s extremely skeptical for most of the film. These are the kinds of things that separate a movie and a narrative from a non-fiction book.

After two hours, it does get a little better. We finally get a much-needed scene between Garrison and his wife that’s great and there’s some stuff to break it up the info dump at least until we get to the big summation speech which is guns blazing and effective. Overall though, the film has an extraordinary amount of problems that are at nearly every level of the script and it is fatally flawed as a result.
Rating: D+


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