It’s hard to really know where to begin with reviewing this film. Objectively well made, featuring a homogenous flow between drama and documentary, J.F.K., is Oliver Stone’s 1991 three-hour take on the assassination of one of our seemingly most beloved and (at the same time) hated Presidents. The film follows district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) as he works with a team of investigators in the 1960s to peel back the hood on one of the most confusing, devastating, heartbreaking and jaw dropping moments in US history. Going on to win 2 academy awards J.F.K., has been similarly hated and praised much like our Country’s late President involved. But I really don’t want to get into the politics of it all. This is a film review. Let’s focus on the emotion, and how it made me feel.
I must first say, I am no expert on the assassination, like the film’s director claims to be, and probably don’t know more about it than the next person. But I do believe one thing from my time with this film and a short visit to the site in Dallas, Texas as a kid; Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone. What all of that entails or means… is where I hesitate. I hesitate to dive deeper into the political and governmental statements being made within the film, as I feel I’m not fully equipped to say what I believe is true or not, for a multitude of reasons. However, I will outright agree with the films ability to present and give credence to the fact that there was, without a doubt, a conspiracy. Multiple gunmen, compartmentalized leadership, a possible coup de tat?? It’s hard not to consider, if you watch you’ll see.
In my own experience, growing up after this film had been made, I lived in a world where the conspiracy surrounding JFK’s death was all too real, but no one could give me a solid answer on it. Maybe it’s because I was a kid, and no kid is really ready for the shitstorm that Oliver Stone’s film shines a light on. And equally, no adult wants to be the weirdo preaching conspiracy theories to young feeble minds. I remember as a young boy, being taught more about what was going on 200+ years ago rather than what had relatively just happened, that this was a film I was not ready or old enough to watch… according to mom and dad.
What’s amazing is I have faint memories of my parents watching this film. I was told to leave the room, or something of that sort, after sneaking in some looks and listening from through the walls. What I do remember was taking notice of the style in witch the narrative was being presented. Oliver Stone cuts between different types of film, cameras, real and fake footage throughout the entire runtime. The score was awesome too. It felt so poignant and raw. Though at the time, I didn’t understand the subject matter, it was this masterful technique that stuck with me. Now, years and years later, after listening to Oliver Stone speak about his career and beliefs on the Joe Rogan Experience, I finally re watched it the other night. Maybe now I can understand the inner workings of the conspiracy…
Well… yes and no. Am I now in a greater frame of mind to understand the implications and the deep subject matter that is being presented in Jim Garrison’s final monologue? Do I realize the importance in seeking out truth over the manipulation of it by the rich, powerful and few? Yes. But am I able to explain to you the real drivers, motivations and players behind the conspiracy itself? No. Though the film tries to, there is so much information packed into this three-hour docu-drama turned court drama that it inevitably all feels so vague. I have to admit, it can be hard to keep up. But there is a solid framework built and if you’re invested, you will be able to follow, to an extent. Being a person who doesn’t give too much credence to conspiracies for the sake of my own mental health, I can only imagine what the viewing experience would be like if you watched with a hardcore expert.
Now here we are, the film is over, and I still feel left at somewhat of a dead end. After watching, I realize with my growing maturity that there are simply things in this world that I cannot control or understand. Who could benefit from our President’s death? Who could follow through on it? And who has the power to cover it up? Feverishly seeking all the answers to this conspiracy, like Jim Garrison does, will only lead you to more questions; more questions, more confusion and possibly danger. I know a lot of people may take everything this film says and shows for fact, but I think it’s also important to remember that it is a FILM. And I’m just a film reviewer, not a man on the search for truth.
I’m content with my place in this world, but that does not mean I am ignorant to the fact that there are those out there who are pulling the strings. And maybe that’s all this film really looks to accomplish on the most basic level.
The last statement superimposed on the screen is telling to what Oliver Stone looked to accomplish with the film, “Dedicated to the young, whose search for truth marches on”. And boy am I looking forward to 2029, when all the classified documents will be released. But why wait?
There is of course a fountain of “evidence” that I hear get thrown around on podcasts, television, books and films. And I’m sure there’s new “evidence” everyday, but I’ll leave all of that to someone else. I’d rather kick back and enjoy this film instead. Because… it’s pretty damn good.
Verdict 4 out of 5.
Putting the obvious agenda and endless exposition of the film to the side to look at the acting is one of the less daunting tasks here. This film is stacked with amazing actors. Gary Oldman does a fantastic job bringing Lee Harvey Oswald to life. The black and white sequences involving his character are haunting yet human. His portrayal is integral to eventually empathizing with Oswald as a possible puppet or cog in the overall scheme and dismissing the single bullet theory.
Joe Pesci as David Ferrie and Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw complete a realistic pull with their supporting characters; two of the main men in question of being involved with the conspiracy. There are too many great actors to name, but knowing that John Candy, Michael Rooker, Donald Sutherland and more all have parts is enough to sell me on the product.
Ultimately, after research I found that this film was met with some heat upon its release. Slowly but surely becoming one of the biggest films of its time. I like to think of my personal history with this film as a microcosm for how it has been accepted. Maybe the initial hatred comes from people who weren’t ready for what it had to say, much like my younger self. It takes a lot for an individual to put their own government and the powers that be in question. For some, they may never get to that point of accepting other points of view. But I think J.F.K. is a very important film, one that can make its audience think outside that box and challenge what they know or think to be true.