Oliver Stone's cinematic presentation of a conspiracy theory is undeniably powerful and intriguing...
The assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was one of the darkest days in American history. It was a moment that stunned the world, fueling them with grief, fear, rage, or all three. The emotional turmoil would continue as investigations were made into the assassination, eventually leading to the conclusion that a man named Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin. But the mystery deepened once Oswald himself was killed before going to trial.
These were the facts that I, like many people, accepted once my U.S. history class in high school taught them. I never paid attention to conspiracy theories about the assassination because conspiracy theorists tend to make me nervous. Yet, many years later, I would begin to question the facts myself, namely one: If one gunshot sent Kennedy's head back and to the left, how could there be just a lone gunman at a window BEHIND Kennedy's motorcade in Dealey Plaza in Dallax, TX?
To explore this, I turned to the 1991 historical epic film JFK, which Oliver Stone wrote, produced, and directed. I will say this right now. The movie, which depicts one man's quest to find an alternative explanation for Kennedy's assassination, is so intense and captivating that there is no doubt about Stone's passion about the subject. He, like the film's main character, has a fiery desire to make us open our minds, question what we're told, and seek the truth.
The movie JFK is based on two books detailing how Kennedy might actually have been killed. The author of one of these books, Jim Garrison, is the subject of this movie and played very well by Kevin Costner. As a District Attorney in New Orleans, Garrison is a dedicated intellectual who cannot rest with the mysteries of the Kennedy assassination unsolved. He and his legal team set out to uncover who really killed the 35th President of the United States.
About two-thirds of the film is dedicated to interviews that Garrison conducts with various characters, including a friend of Lee Harvey Oswald named David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), a gay prisoner named Willie O'Keefe (Kevin Bacon), New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), and Donald Sutherland as a mysterious man only known as X. These scenes take plenty of time but provide a very clear glimpse into the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, portrayed here by Gary Oldman. There's also much realism when actual historical footage and photographs are incorporated into the main film, which may sometimes be in black and white to make it look like real historical footage.
From there, a couple of twists take place before the movie culminates into the climax: a trial during which Garrison finally presents his case about how Kennedy really died. This is where Garrison points out the flaw of the infamous "magic bullet theory." How could one bullet change directions multiple times to account for all of the wounds documented? If you think that's something, wait until Garrison delivers his powerful summary, in careful detail, of what he thinks really happened, accompanied by shots of other images to really get your attention. This scene and the one with Donald Sutherland's X character are definitely my two favorite parts of JFK.
It's a shame that some critics may dislike the movie because they question the validity of this conspiracy theory. To me, that should not be the main factor in deciding whether JFK is great or not. It's true that I have found myself willing to question the official explanation of the Kennedy assassination and to look at Garrison's theory as a solid, logical alternative, but in the end, JFK is a remarkably great movie simply because of the top-notch cast, script, and overall presentation. Oliver Stone has much to be proud of with JFK. In my opinion, this is his best movie of all.
For more information about JFK, visit the Internet Movie Database.