The story of the famous and influential 1960s rock band and its lead singer and composer, Jim Morrison, from his days as a UCLA film student in Los Angeles, to his untimely death in Paris, France at age 27 in 1971.
On November 22, 1963, president John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested for the crime and subsequently shot by Jack Ruby, supposedly avenging the president's death. An investigation concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby acted alone in their respective crimes, but Louisiana district attorney Jim Garrison is skeptical. Assembling a trusted group of people, Garrison conducts his own investigation, bringing about backlash from powerful government and political figures. Written by
Don Johnson tried hard to get the part of Jim Garrison. He was turned down, as Stone and the producers felt the actors own public image would make him a hard sell as Garrison. See more »
Opening scene supposedly takes place in 1962. Car shown is a 1965 Chevy. See more »
"To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards of men." - Ella Wheeler Wilcox
...We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. And to do this three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishement. We annually spend on military security alone...
January, 1961. President Dwight D. Eisenhowers's Farewell Address to the Nation.
...This conjunction of an immense military establishment and arms industry ...
[...] See more »
Closing dedication: Dedicated to the young in whose spirit the search for truth marches on See more »
No matter how ugly a truth is, it is never uglier than its absence ...
On the field of storytelling, "JFK" reminds of Costa Gavras' "Z", a political thriller meticulously deconstructing a politician's murder in a fictional Fascist country. Yet it owes more to Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" which presented one reality from as many angles as levels of subjectivity. It's interesting that these films, all one-word titled, were made in the same intervals of time and like "Rashomon" and "Z", "JFK" is less a name than a code that encapsulates behind the mystery and the patriotic mask, a more universal truth about humanity.
Still, patriotism is seriously involved and it's very significant that Oliver Stone, one of America's most prolific political film-makers, much more a Vietnam vet, handled the subject of Kennedy's assassination. As a man who practiced America's ideals on a muddy battlefield, Stone is entitled to question these values he fought for and the integrity of the leaders that sent him out there: indeed, why would America send soldiers to fight foreigners in Vietnam? Why so far when Cuba is so close?
Money is the key. There are no warmongers but businessmen who generate money out of all the steel, the guns, the helicopters, the machines that are blown to pieces in Asia. In fact, Stone didn't make a Vietnam and a President trilogy but a colossal oeuvre about Politics and War. And to a certain extent, Kennedy can be regarded as one of the Vietnam War's victims, as a collateral damage: he was against the conflict and got killed before putting an end to it. It doesn't point an accusing finger on the Army, but it highlights at least one serious motive for Kennedy's assassination.
And that's the essence of the investigation lead by District Attorney Garrison, Kevin Costner at the peak of his bank-ability. Garrison isn't satisfied with the conclusions of the Warren Commission that validated the "isolated killer" theory, incarnated by Lee Harvey Oswald (a remarkable Gary Oldman) who conveniently died before his trial. What was his motive anyway? The Commission closed the case, leaving a bunch of altered testimonies, witnesses silenced before exposing their truth and so many unanswered questions. Garrison smells something fishy and who wouldn't? And the compass to guide his investigation is the elementary question: who benefits from the crime?
And this is where Kennedy's assassination takes a sort of legendary aura, playing as a modern version of Julius Caesar. Kennedy could have made a lot of enemies everywhere: CIA, Russia, Cubans, although I wouldn't regard it as an omission, the film didn't even mention the possibility of an involvement from the Federal Reserve Bank since Kennedy always defended the sovereignty of the dollar. But as the film progresses, it gets clearer that Kennedy was a man to eliminate, and one of "JFK"'s highlights (which is saying a lot) is carried by the revelations delivered by Donald Sutherland as Mr. X, in Washington.
There are two levels in "JFK", the mystery surrounding the murder and the investigation, what happened and what is known. And both interact in a masterstroke of editing, probably one of the most complicated, intricate and brilliant ever committed to screen, certainly a school-case for wannabe editors. Literally, "JFK" is served like a salad of documents, flashbacks, excerpts from the Zapruder film, archive footage, memories, truths and lies, shot in every possible way (sepia, 16mm, amateur, black and white) and as Roger Ebert pointed out, the film would have been harder to follow with an unchanging shooting. The salad is rich but digestible.
And like a 1000-piece puzzle, "JFK" is an assemblage of different portions of reality that tend to get Garrison, if not closer to the 'final image', further from the Warren's conclusions. On that level, the film provides an extraordinary cast of supporting characters, from Jack Lemmon to Joe Pesci, from Kevin Bacon to John Candy, each one leading to one certainty: there was a conspiracy. The analysis of the Zapruder film revealed the timing between the first and last shot, making implausible the 'one-killer' hypothesis, even if he's a sharpshooter. And this very implausibility implies the presence of a second person, which is enough to validate the idea of a conspiracy.
And last but not least, there's the excitability of some interrogated people who know that they put their lives at stakes if they talk. The film is driven by a sense of paranoia that conveys its greatest thrills. What can be more emotionally engaging than a quest for truth anyway, especially when it undermines the deepest beliefs of any good citizen? One of Garrison's employees, played by Michael Rooker, can't accept the possibility of Johnson's involvement, even Garrison's wife (Sissy Spacek) represent this side of America that wants to turn the page. Garrison has detractors and it starts in his own private circle, before he becomes a target for the media.
Garrison embodies the struggle of a man who wants to reconcile with America's ideals, he doesn't fight the government because he's against it, but because the government acts against the people. He feels like owing this to Kennedy, to his vision of America, to his sons, and as his investigation goes on, he witnesses the deaths of Martin Luther King, of Bobby Kennedy, and realizes that the system that killed Kennedy still prevails. Garrison's struggle is magnificently conveyed by the sort of inspirational score that only John Williams could have performed.
"JFK" works on every cinematic level, it's one of the best political films and best conspiracy movies ever made because it doesn't try to tell its own truth but to belie a fallacious version. It starts with an axiom: there was a conspiracy, and as long as it won't be solved, there's an emotional wound in America's heart that would never be healed.
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