A good defense lawyer only needs to cast a reasonable doubt to get his client off the hook, we Kennedy followers have learned, and 1960s slugger Oliver Stone proves he's a masterful litigant in this gumbo-filled historical reconstruction of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Essentially, it's not about Kennedy but rather the tale of New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison who -- not believing the Warren Commission's Report that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald
, shot down JFK -- launched a widespread investigation, eventually prosecuting one New Orleans citizen Clay Shaw
for the crime. In Garrison's eye, Shaw was a cog in a murderous conspiracy hatched by the CIA, the defense industry, Southern rednecks, Cuban refugees and all sorts of goose hunters.
If any cause or special interest group wanted to hire a filmmaker to document the rightness of their issue, Stone would be unbeatable. In this view of nimble bombast, it's not doubtful that Stone could spin a masterful cinematic web linking John Sununu
's resignation with the collapse of Pan Am. Aesthetically, ''JFK'' is crafty, super-skilled filmmaking: propaganda every bit as cinematically splendid as Frank Capra
's ''Why We Fight'' or Leni Riefenstahl
's ''Triumph of the Will.''
Dignifying D.A. Garrison, who even in the jambalaya of this country's screwiest state was considered a Loose Cannon
, is the savvy casting of good-old-reliable, salt-of-the-earth Kevin Costner
. As the obsessed litigant, Costner evens sucks on a pipe, avuncularly a la the great wise man of the era, Walter Cronkite.
Opposing this judicious breadwinner are the wide array of ''conspirators, '' shrewdly chosen among Hollywood's finest nutcase players -- prominently Joe Pesci
as a hypertensive co-conspirator and Donald Sutherland as a slithery CIA op. Down the French Quarter line, you've also got died-blonde Tommy Lee Jones
as gay Clay Shaw
and Ed Asner as a swaggering redneck. Before we even present the facts, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, which side would you trust: gray-suited Kevin or Joe Pesci
and the boys.
In the film, Garrison quotes Adolf Hitler
as saying the bigger the lie, the more people are likely to believe it; paraphrasing that cynicism, the bigger the movie the more likely people are going to believe it, especially in this post-literate age where college kids only know JFK as the president who got laid a lot. And screenwriters Stone and Zachary Sklar
present the ''facts'' in a stentorian wave of shrewd and sometimes dubious juxtapositions (aided and abetted by muted trumpet and stacatto of the snares).
The narrative movement is thus: Garrison espouses theory, interrogates slimeball who lies to him, followed by flashback to ''reality'' shot in black-and-white showing Garrison's suppositions are correct.
Indeed, Stone's savvy, documentary-style black-and-white footage casts an aura of truth over this theoretical treatise. Stone has built his case, starting with documentary clips of Dwight Eisenhower's warning of the terrors of the ''military industrial complex, '' through a winning montage of Camelot (the energy of the New Frontier; the disastrous Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the triumph of ''Ich Bin Ein Berliner'' speech, to Dallas.
Throughout, Stone stretches one thread: the CIA and military industrial complex, furious at Kennedy for not providing air support in the Bay of Pigs and fearing his pulling out of Vietnam, hatched a plot.
At its most questionable, a voice-over enumerates the military/industrial types who would benefit from JFK's death -- while panning over the likes of the Joint Chiefs and LBJ. While Oliver Stone has certainly stirred up the waters, with good conscience and, in JFK's own parlance, ''with vigah, '' most people are likely to regard ''JFK'' as BS.
In Association with Le Studio Canal Plus, Regency Enterprises and Alcor Films
An Ixtlan Corp. and an A. Kitman Ho
Producers A. Kitman Ho
, Oliver Stone
Director Oliver Stone
Screenwriters Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar
Executive producer Arnon Milchan
Director of photography Robert Richardson
Production designer Victor Kempster
Co-producer Clayton Townsend
Editors Joe Hutshing
, Pietro Scalia
Music John Williams
Costume designer Marlene Stewart
Casting Risa Bramon Garcia
, Billy Hopkins
, Heidi Levitt
Based on the books ''On the Trail of the Assassins'' by Jim Garrison and ''Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy'' by Jim Marrs
Jim Garrison Kevin Costner
Liz Garrison Sissy Spacek
David Ferrie Joe Pesci
Clay Shaw Tommy Lee Jones
Lee Harvey Oswald Gary Oldman
Bill Broussard Michael Rooker
Lou Ivon Jay O. Sanders
Susie Cox Laurie Metcalf
Jack Martin Jack Lemmon
Sen. Long Walter Mattheu
Dean Andrews John Candy
Guy Bannister Ed Asner
Willie O'Keefe Kevin Bacon
Earl Warren Jim Garrison
Running time -- 188 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
(c) The Hollywood Reporter