Back And To The Left: Oliver Stone's JFK
Oliver Stone’s JFK is the closest thing we have to an act revolution in American mainstream cinema. Based on Jim Garrison's On the Trail of the Assassins and Jim Marrs' Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, JFK is a bravura masterpiece of epic storytelling and historical melodrama. Stone's politically charged acumen and dynamic visual sense is working at full throttle, and the result is one of his best works as a director and American storyteller.
Stone (especially at this point in his career) wasn’t going to offer a half-hearted narrative about the Kennedy conspiracy, and the most astounding achievement in JFK lies in Stone’s ability to build a wildly complex and dense multi-character mosaic and brace it with a bounty of stylistic flourishes. The visual conception propels this complicated nonlinear epic - a combination of dramatized docu journalism, archival footage, and historical reenactments. A difficult task to be sure, but Stone cobbles together this unique hybrid masterfully while being rigorously faithful to cultural iconography. It’s a matter of aesthetic and its relation to his political convictions; this isn’t the work of someone trying to sell an idea, or a conspiracy theory, Oliver Stone’s film is a vigorous and demonstrative work.
JFK boasts technical chops thanks to some stunning, Oscar-winning cinematography from Robert Richardson; juggling aspect ratios, film speeds, and crafting scenes in the mold broadcast television, he had his work cut out for him. Regardless of how many times you revisit JFK the massive acting talent is always flooring: from Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon, Wayne Knight, Michael Rooker, John Candy, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and a standout performance from Joe Pesci. It’s a something to behold and everyone is putting in brilliant work.
Although the film features an endless array of moving parts and characters, the crux of the narrative is relatively simple; New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison treats the assassination as a murder case. Someone killed the president, and he and his legal team are going through the motions to find out who. As an inciting incident, a murder case is routine, but the death of a president is anything but. The perception of Oswald as the killer ruled in the court of public opinion. America had its culprit; and said culprit was shot; as a societal collective this was an open-and-shut case, but in a lawful, modern society doesn’t this convenient brand of frontier justice seem a tad, off?
Jim Garrison (played with passionate conviction by Kevin Costner) begins to scratch the surface and reveals an overwhelming level of duplicitous intrigue scaling every level of our government and the narrative is a record of the information as it was culled. The controversy that surrounds this film feels unwarranted because JFK, based Garrison's book, is mainly in concert with the details presented in his book that was part of his investigation.
The film presents many challenging, and at times complicated scenarios surrounding the assassination and Oliver Stone doesn’t submit an idea without substantiating its presence in a tangible and artistically satisfying manner. While characters on screen do indeed say that Kennedy was killed because of a coup launched by Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet, that Oswald wasn't the lone shooter, that there was a triangulation of gunfire directed at the motorcade, that the secret service intimidated witnesses, Oliver Stone isn’t proclaiming these ideas as moral certainties.
There’s plenty to admire in JFK, and in many ways this was one a project the director was born to make. Stone's connection to Garrison is akin to the idealistic outsider (a constant in his cinema) whose noble pursuit not only mirrors the heart of the American spirit but the revolutionary endeavor a paramount tenet this country was founded on.
While our present climate is doing it’s best to strangle what remaining freedoms we do retain, under the “leadership” of a bloated tyrannical clown we can only hope that The Assassination Records Collection Act will shine much-needed light on the events that occurred on November 22nd, 1963, that people will have the insight to press further in uncovering the truth.