03 August 2010

Review: "JFK"

I am a relative beginner when it comes to Oliver Stone. I have only seen three of his films and Natural Born Killers (1994) is the only one I liked, and it demands multiple viewings. The other two films, U Turn (1996) and Any Given Sunday (1997) are much weaker efforts. Oliver Stone has made a career out of political dramas and biographies of former American presidents. His most well known films may be Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) which both won Academy Awards for Best Director as well as earning Best Picture for Platoon. JFK is an epic film at over three hours that looks at the assassination of John F. Kennedy through the eyes of Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner), District Attorney of New Orleans. The film was very controversial and many believed Oliver Stone was taking too many liberties when it came to facts. JFK features a fantastic cast led by Kevin Costner and costars Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon and Donald Sutherland as well as narration by Martin Sheen. Unfortunately Oliver Stone's emphasis on Jim Garrison in JFK makes the seem feel like little more than a conspiracy theory and every scene with his wife and kids are too forced and a constant reminder that JFK is an overwrought drama.

The film begins with black and white newsreel footage that begins with Eisenhower's presidential farewell address in 1961 and continues until the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Jim Garrison learns of a connection in New Orleans to Kennedy's suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (Oldman), and begins questioning possible conspirators, including pilot David Ferrie (Pesci). Unfortunately Oswald is killed by Jack Ruby (Brian Doyle Murray) and Garrison ends his investigation. In 1966 Garrison resumes his investigation after reading the Warren Report (also known as The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy) and find a link between Oswald, Ferrie and a man named Clay Shaw (Jones), a businessman, and Willie O'Keefe (Bacon), a male prostitute. Shaw is eventually charged with conspiring to murder the president after new evidence leads Garrison to believe there was a second shooter. As Garrison's professional life flourishes his life at home suffers and his marriage to Liz (Spacek) suffers. JFK leads to the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969 when Garrison tries to disprove the government's theory that there was one shooter.

JFK is a very long film with a considerable amount of information being hurled at the viewer. I might be too young and too Canadian for a film about an American president in the 1960s. The actors in the film were definitely in the prime of their careers and did a respectable job. Kevin Costner was two years removed from the incredible success of Dances with Wolves and Tommy Lee Jones would soon win an Academy Award for The Fugitive. JFK does show that Oliver Stone is a gifted filmmaker but I think this film included too much information and I probably think this because of my age and my complete lack of knowledge of American politics. My biggest problem with JFK is that it tries to make Jim Garrison an American hero while depicting him as a vindictive, career-obsessed man who ignores his entire family. I could have done without practically every scene that involved Liz and the kids. Not even Sissy Spacek's incredible talent as an actress was able to evoke the intended empathy from me. JFK would have been a lot more satisfying if it had focused more on the conspiracy instead of Kevin Costner's performance.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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