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By Tom BakerPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 5 min read
Michael Rooker, Kevin Costner, and Jay O. Sanders in JFK (1991)

I typically like to rewatch a film before writing about it, but I've seen Oliver Stone's JFK so many times in my life, that I don't really think it's necessary. I know the film like the back of my hand, having sat through it many times, exalting over its recreation of a historical period receding further and further away from us, as time moves on.

But, as the Man said, "What is past is prolog."

The film's all-star cast is perfectly suited to the material, each actor or actress exemplifying their role, from the staunchly idealistic Kevin Costner to the hyper-manic Joe Pesci, to the slick, piss-elegant Tommy Lee Jones, whom Garrison pegged as "Clay Bertram," but who, unfortunately, he could not get a jury to believe was also New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw. Other notable turns (they are all really notable), include John Candy as Dean Andrews, Kevin Bacon as composite character Willie O'Keefe, Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Garrison, Laurie Metcalfe, and Jay O. Sanders as a perfect film noir detective (it's a shame he was never pegged to play Philip Marlowe when he was still young). Backing him up is actor Michael "Portrait of a Serial Killer" Rooker, who becomes the Judas of the intrepid band of investigators in the New Orleans D.A.'s office, all trying to gather enough evidence against a mesmerizingly bleak and shadowy cast of characters, to bring the only case against alleged conspirators in the assassination of John F. Kennedy to ever be brought to trial. Stone uses a wide array of cinematic techniques: flashbacks, recreations, confessions from eyewitnesses, as well as a lot of speculation--to steadily convince the viewer that, indeed, it was a conspiracy after all. But every thinking individual already realizes that; at least, in the opinion of THIS writer.

The lynchpin of the film, its center, is Gary Oldman, who recreates Oswald, the Enigma, in a manner so chillingly close to reality it is a struggle for the viewer to begin NOT to think of the actor as "Lee Harvey Oswald." Oldman brings perfection to his role that surpasses mere cinema; it is hard for this writer to think of Oldman and not think of Oswald, he so exemplifies the mysterious, troubled, doomed alleged "lone gunman."

The plot submerges itself in the world of the small, vicious, manic "David W. Ferrie" (played with loud, frantic intensity by Joe Pesci), a weird historical character who was Oswald's Civil Air Patrol captain, and Ferrie's paradoxically mostly gay and Far Right associates (not mutually exclusive of course, but not usually associated one with another). They inhabit a twilight world of C.I.A. gun-running, black ops, hired killers, and extreme anti-communist and Right Wing sympathizers, such as that portrayed by Ed Asner ("Guy Bannister"), whose flunky Jack Lemon is beaten at the outset of the movie by a drunken Asner for "knowing too much."

After a lull of five years, and the escalation of the Vietnam War, Garrison leads his staff back into investigating the JFK hit, much to the amazement of Rooker's character. Casual meetings with the staff over dinner and drinks are used by Stone as a way to introduce the counter-narrative points that paint a very different picture of events than what was finally attested to by the Warren Commission. The film is long, but it is never tedious. Scenes are recreated flawlessly, information is introduced to the audience they, most likely, have never heard before. Point by point, Stone builds a case for doubt. But, in a criminal case, you must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The casual viewer may ask if he manages this.

Indeed, it is our opinion, that he does.

Donald Sutherland makes an appearance as "Colonel X", based loosely on conspiracy researcher Colonel R. Fletcher Prouty. In a meeting with Garrison in front of the Washington Monument, he gives him the background of "Why." It is Garrison's job to figure out "Who" and "How."

JFK (4/7) Movie CLIP - A Meeting with X (1991) HD

JFK (5/7) Movie CLIP - Coup d'État (1991) HD

He manages to do so, despite the defection and betrayal of Michael Rooker's character, and the seeming "suicide" of Ferry. The era rockets onward during the years of his uphill climb of an investigation, with Rev. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy also being assassinated. Garrison endures death threats, bugging of his offices, attempts to set him up, and outright ridicule, finally managing to bring trial against the lizard-like Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), whose exterior panache hides the rather brutal visage of an intelligence operative (today, we might peg him as an asset of the "Deep State").

Garrison loses his case of course. Ironically, the jury conceded that they believed there indeed was a conspiracy to murder JFK; they just didn't conclusively buy that Clay Shaw had anything to do with it. "Let justice be done though the heavens fall," quoth Costner in what I take to be his greatest role. His passion and naivety as Garrison, his all-American heroism is never tarnished by the cynicism and corruption he discovers all around him. He's a committed trooper, serving his fallen country, his murdered King. Like Hamlet, he has become one of "the children of a slain father figure."

The vision of Kennedy's America has been betrayed in the intervening decades; dashed to the rocks. The progressive vision of a future of peace, prosperity, equality for all, and justice before the law seems a sham in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Co-Intelpro, and on and on; the entire half-century of lies, corruption, distortion, and slavish obedience to the Military-Industrial Complex (even now we're sending arms and military aid to the bloodbaths in Ukraine and Gaza). This is what opens the film: Eisenhower's warning to guard against the "undue influence of the Military-Industrial complex." He also famously stated that war, if not reigned in would "crucify man on a cross of iron." He knew whereof he spoke, did President Eisenhower.

Woodrow Wilson said of D.W. Griffith's incredible if inflammatory silent film epic Birth of a Nation (1915): "It's like history writ with lightning." So too Oliver Stone's JFK, a film whose final recreations of historical events are as harrowing as anything we've ever seen. The modern viewer may well walk away puzzled though, that a film had to go to the lengths that this one does to reveal that John F. Kennedy was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, but by a calculating cabal of "cold warriors": spooks, conspirators, assassins. Plural.

Most already accept that as the conventional wisdom.

JFK (1991) Official Trailer - Kevin Costner, Oliver Stone Thriller Movie HD

heroes and villainsvintagepoliticsmovie reviewhistoryfact or fictioncriminals

About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock3 months ago

    Quite the enticing review. Most people discount the conspiracy theories & accept the Warren Report because there's just too much we don't know. But whether or not Oswald acted alone or part of a conspiracy, the principalities & powers & types of actions described &/or inferred here have revealed themselves a thousand times over since then. Whether it's the military-industrial complex, big tobacco, oil interests, diamonds or any of a number of others, power & privilege are always at the very least tempted to protect their interests. It doesn't take many of them to decide to do so to force everyone else to follow along or get out of the business. The cartels do not need to organize formally where they might be subject to regulation & control. They are natural allies without having to speak a word.

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