New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there's more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there's more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there's more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.
The film opens on a surprisingly suspenseful scene of the murder of John F. Kennedy. The chopped style of the scene lets you know that something is not right, dramatic black and white shots spliced with the blurry grain shots of the home video taken by a witness (it won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography). This, accompanied by John Williams' excellent original score helped do an excellent job of creating a mood, just for this very first scene. Often times a director will stop after this, give it his all for style and then stop after the first scene, but Stone doesn't do this. He makes the film so much more than a boring investigation; he takes you in to each of the puzzle pieces (indeed, it feels like you're with Kevin Costner "digging" through hundreds of events.) For 90% of these clips that lace the film's concepts together, the camera is not kept steady, it is, indeed, like you are there witnessing it. The human eye doesn't only look at what is important, and a situation of trauma can make everything seem broken, confused. Oliver Stone doesn't try to make sure you understand what's going on. Some frown upon this, but it's realistic and that's what counts.
Kevin Costner plays Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New Orleans who investigates the murder of John Kennedy. Sometimes you are expected to disagree (at first) with some of Garrison's presumptuous statements, and when you do there is always at least one character around who will agree with you. Stone realizes most viewers aren't devoted enough to believe everything Garrison says no matter what it is throughout the film. Stone has said that he wants people to "rethink history" and that this film is not guaranteed fact, but an "alternate myth" to the myth that has been presented before. The story is not solid because very few ideas or people or events in life are. What I mean to say is that Garrison's comments are not necessarily ridiculous, it's just a matter of how hard he tries to support them. The focus constantly changes -- yes, Costner will smile a bit when he makes a ridiculous remark that everyone rolls their eyes at, yes, even at the end of the film some clips will be left unchecked, and yes, you will see that there is no way that the question "who killed JFK" is answered as simply, solidly, and, dare I say it, Hollywood-esquely as a one man killing. If you watch this movie looking for real life, without dramatization and without guaranteed entertainment and fun, you will be impressed. This is not a popcorn movie.
And finally a word should be said about the actors' enhancement of the realism of the film. Most notable are Joe Pesci as the frantic David Ferrie who pretends to be a victim but truly (we see) had much more to do with it than he pretends (although convincingly was not an assassin -- he blows the whole thing out of proportion "this is too f*cking big for you, you know that?") and Tommy Lee Jones as the wry ring leader Claw Shaw, who seems to be a pompous upscale member of society that has been doing the dark business of conspiracy behind closed doors. The fact that these characters can appear real to us and not just appear as familiar actors taking on a role (as you might feel in Ocean's Eleven) truly does the film justice in driving it forward.
This is in fact one of my top three favorite movies, but I tend to refrain from mentioning it as just this to my friends-- I'm sooner to mention Memento or Fight Club. The reason for this is that the movie is almost an acquired taste, and certainly not normal entertainment for a teenager. It's honestly written for a generation above me, but everything that makes it (up to and including the "kings are killed" and other political themes) are intriguing to me, and for me anything intriguing grows to be a favorite. Even if the subject is not something that ever really impacted me, I take themes to heart, and I always love a good "enigma wrapped in a riddle."
NOTES: -Maybe a point off for being inconsistent in goal. Though as admirable in a movie as any other characteristic, I found this to be the most restricting on ability to follow along. -Also notable is the fact that it's very release sparked opening of sealed governmental records on the subject.
- Jan 11, 2003