Friday, February 15, 2013
(December 1991, U.S.)
From 1987 through 1991, Kevin Costner was on a real hot streak with some incredible films that, in my opinion, ended with Oliver Stone's JFK. The key thing to remember about watching JFK is that it's a political film to be studied and enjoyed as an entertaining motion picture and not, I repeat NOT a basis of accurate historical fact.
Ever since the historic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the facts, the stories, and the conspiracy theories have been discussed, pulled apart and shoved down the throats of Americans who not only experienced that tragic period in American history firsthand, but with future generations who would learn about what did or did not happen on that fateful day. Stone's film examines the events leading to the assassination John Kennedy and the alleged subsequent cover-up through the eyes of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (played perfectly by Kevin Costner). Garrison filed charges against New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (played by Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged participation in a conspiracy to assassinate the President, for which Lee Harvey Oswald (played Gary Oldman) was found responsible by two government investigations: the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (which concluded that there was another assassin shooting with Oswald). This much, as a bare minimum, is certain fact that has never been denied or challenged. The film itself was co-adapted by Stone from the books "On the Trail of the Assassins" by Jim Garrison and "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy" by Jim Marrs. Again, it's important to understand that the film is based on only two sources in a world of conspiracy theories that very likely would draw out sources from all over the world. Stone himself described the account used for his film as a "counter-myth" to the Warren Commission's "fictional myth".
What is fact and what is fiction in JFK? How much are you willing to believe or refute? How much controversy are you willing to accept or deny? You're more than welcome to believe everything Oliver Stones suggests for a running time of over three hours, but someone like Walter Kronkite may have walked up to you, hit you in the head and told you that you're were being brainwashed. Then again, everything in the film may be dead-on which would suggest that the American government behind the Kennedy administration was simply pure evil. What I'm trying to tell you here is that questions, controversy and the solving of the Kennedy assassination mystery are besides the point in that JFK is a film to be savored and appreciated as a body of work by a truly gifted filmmaker. This is a riveting thriller with, in my opinion, some of the best uses of camera edits, cuts and flashbacks I've ever seen in any film. From the moment the film begins with the clock ticking to those fatal shots that will change American history to the final resolution of the verdict in Garrison's case against Clay Shaw, you're literally on the edge of your seat waiting to see what will happen next, even if the events of the film are dealing with historical moments you're likley already familiar with. In most cases, any film that generates a tremedous amount of heat with the media and critics is likely something to be worth watching. JFK became embroiled in heated controversy and polarized film critics. Upon the film's theatrical release, many major American newspapers ran editorials accusing Stone of taking liberties with historical facts, including the film's implication that President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of a coup d'état to kill Kennedy. Could that have been true? Did Stone go too far with that one? Who knows. I'm sure I heard George W. Bush accused of far worse during his two tragic terms in office.
The film's all-star cast is one of the best I've seen since any of those disaster films of the 1970s. Each high profile performer give his or her all in a film that demands high concentration in a story depicting a hard historical topic. Beyond Costner's Garrison, which truly dominates the film, I would call specific attention the character of "X" (played by Donald Sutherland). His character is not only key in providing the crucial information that Garrison requires for his research and his case, but it's also the intense nature of his voice and character that keeps you listening to every damn word he's saying during his brief, but perfect cameo appearance. From the moment he and Garrison meet in Washington D.C. to the moment their conversation is over, you're hooked by every word that appears to condemn our American government deeper and deeper into the political pit of Hell.
So, let's recap - as a film of historical accuracy, Oliver Stone's JFK may be accused of being truly dubious. As pure filmmaking, though, it's electric and succeeds in cramming a ton of hard information and excitement into its long running time and making great use of its truly outstanding cast. This is the formula that makes JFK Stone's best film since PLATOON (1986). Dare I even say it's the BEST film of his career??
SELECTED favorite dialogue (because I could choose just ONE for this particular post!):
"X": "After I came back, I asked myself, why was I, the chief special officer, selected to travel to the South Pole at that time that any number of others could have done? And I wondered if it was because one of my routine duties if I had been in Washington would have been to arrange for additional security in Texas, so I decided to check it out. And sure enough, someone had told the 112th Military Intelligence Group at Fourth Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston in Texas to stand down that day, over the protests of the Unit Commander, Colonal Rike. This is significant because it is standard operating procedure, especially in a known hostile city like Dallas."
"X": "We would have arrived days ahead, studied the route, checked all the buildings. Never would have allowed all those wide-open windows overlooking Dealy Plaza, never! We would have had our own snipers covering the area the minute a window went up! They would have been on the radio. We would have been watching the building, checking for baggage, coat under the arms. Never would have allowed a man to open an umbrella along the way! Never would have allowed the car to slow down to eleven miles an hour, much less take that unusual curve at Houston and Elm! You would have felt an army presence on the streets that day. But none of this happened. It was a violation of the most basic protection code we have, and it's an indication of a massive plot based in Dallas."
"X": "The organizing principle of any society, Mr. Garrison, is for war. The authority of the state over its people resides in its war powers. Kennedy wanted to end the Cold War in his second term. He wanted to call off the moon race and cooperate with the Soviets. He signed a treaty to ban nuclear testing. He refused to invade Cuba in 1962. He set out to withdraw from Vietnam. But all that ended on the 22nd of November, 1963."
"X": "Well that's the real question, isn't it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia. Keeps 'em guessing like some kind of parlor game, prevents 'em from asking the most important question, why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?"
"X": "You've become a significant threat to the national security structure. They would have killed you already but you got a lot of light on you. Instead they're trying to destroy your credibility. They already have in many circles in this town. Be honest, your only chance is to come up with a case. Something, anything. Make arrests, stir the shit storm, hope to reach a point of critical mass that'll start a chain reaction of people coming forward, then the government will crack. Remember, fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth and the truth is on your side, Bubba. I just hope you get a break."