Thursday, August 2, 2012
On 22 November '63, US president John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. While the whole nation is shocked, the police accuse a certain Lee Harvey Oswald as the perpetrator, but he is killed by a certain Jack Ruby before a trial could start. A few years later, after observing numerous plot holes in the Warren Report, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and his friends start questioning witnesses themselves, leading them to a very different conclusion: namely that there were at least two assassins, that someone was using Oswald's identity and that there was a conspiracy from the military top to eliminate Kennedy in order to keep waging wars in Vietnam. Garrison indicts Clay Shaw, but since many witnesses died mysteriously, the trial acquits him.
"JFK" is arguably Oliver Stone's best film, but still dated, embarrassingly biased and dishonest, as are all of his works: one part of the audience views it as propaganda that invents facts, the other part views it as a visualization of independent investigation thinking 'outside the box', but all had to admit that it is a passionate, incredibly tight cinematic experience that electrifies regardless of anyone's political beliefs. Stone here has such an authority that he is able to get away with miles of long monologues (Garrison's final courtroom speech alone probably ran for at least ten pages in the script), rally half of Hollywood to star in the film, whereas even his thousands of cuts somehow seem to have a point because they all manage to align themselves into a clear narrative, expanding the perspectives of what happened during the famous assassination: despite a running time of three hours, there is no empty walk and no scene sounds pointless.
Jim Garrison's story has been debunked - for instance, Dave Ferrie never admitted to have been part of a conspiracy to kill JFK, whereas the mysterious Mr. X, who claims that the assassination was a "coup d'etat" because JFK wanted to end the Cold War while the military wanted to continue the war due to its increasing budget, is just someone's opinion, and a wrong one (Lyndon Johnson, for instance, practically just continued Kennedy's policy in Vietnam) - and Stone fails in this category. One sequence in particular, in which Ferrie allegedly has an orgy with Clay Shaw, painted in gold, even though Ferrie was not gay, is disturbingly homophobic and in poor taste, implying that Ferrie must convert to homosexuality to be initiated in the conspiracy. Stone needed more critical scenes - i.e. in one scene, during dinner, a sleazy lawyer (John Candy in an unusually serious edition) confronts Garrison about his theory, asking him why Bobby Kennedy didn't sue the government for killing his brother if there was a cover-up - but reaches almost the level of gnoseology and the limits of knowledge for man, here untypically set in the political world. This is rare: a director taking a dry law report and transforming it into a suspenseful 'whodunit' mystery a la Agatha Christie. Unfortunately, Stone should have simply either filmed a fictional assassination or stuck to facts, since he misses that Garrison's investigation was lacking any kind of review process and was basically as realistic as trying to uncover the grave of the Minotaur on Crete: his misguided directing was even rewarded, and as a consequence sprung all sorts of biased conspiracy theory garbage films and documentaries later on.