Director Oliver Stone has never shied away from exploring the emotional carnage of people’s lives, particularly in the context of bigger events that are meaningful to Americans. Be it the Vietnam War, President Nixon or The Doors, Oliver Stone is a director with an opinion he’s not afraid to put forth. So it seems only fitting that JFK, a film that challenges the conclusions of the Warren Commission, has Stone at its helm.
Based on hypotheses contained in books by Jim Marr and Jim Garrison, Stone presents JFK as an exploration of the various high power agendas that were at play in American politics circa 1963. It is the service of these agendas, and not the crazed psychosis of ‘lone gunman’ Lee Harvey Oswald, that were responsible for the demise of one of America’s most compelling presidents.
JFK begins in 1966, when Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) is a New Orleans District Attorney that can’t get the inconsistencies of the Warren Commission’s conclusions out of his head. He assembles a team and begins an investigation.
As the investigation unfolds, it reveals a litany of disturbing facts: witness accounts of the assassination have been omitted or altered; Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby were apparently acquainted; witnesses were found dead from mysterious circumstances; and standard security procedures at the highest level were changed for President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas on November 22, 1963. As the team uncovers more information, it becomes horrifyingly clear that what they are discovering are the inner machinations of a coup d’etat.
Costner is at his best as Jim Garrison. It’s a superb piece of casting. Costner’s performance reminds us that when put to the test, he is capable of bringing brilliant understatement to a role. His Garrison is earnest and unrelenting. He will sacrifice whatever it takes to expose a truth he feels is being hidden from an American public that has a right to know. Yet, Costner also reveals the other side of Garrison by showing us a man genuinely scared by what he’s learned and the danger it presents.
Gary Oldman’s Lee Harvey Oswald adds a distinct counterpoint to Costner’s steadfast Garrison. It’s typical of the emotionally infused, frenetic and unnervingly imitative performances that have become the basis of his career.
Around the bedrock portrayals by Costner and Oldman, other notable actors are able to deliver well-honed performances in atypical roles. Tommy Lee Jones is outstanding as Clay Shaw, a prominent New Orleans businessman whose homosexuality is just barely concealed. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau make remarkable cameos as a seasoned private eye and Washington senator respectively. Joe Pesci is a ball of kinetic misery as David Ferrie and John Candy does a decidedly sleazy turn as Dean Andrews, one of Clay Shaw’s legal lackeys.
The ensemble cast carries a script that is well wrought and covers an astonishing amount of detail. Kennedy is presented as Caesar-like; a man surrounded by intimate betrayal and a malevolent plot. However, we’re also continually brought back to the sheer horror of his assassination, and this prevents a full descent into false sentimentality.
JFK is a brave and compelling film. If half the events that it asserts are actually true, we can only shake our heads in pity for the nation that let them happen.
US | 189 minutes | 1991
Director: Oliver Stone
Script: Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar, Jim Marrs, Jim Garrison,
Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison
Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw/Clay Bertrand
Joe Pesci as David Ferrie
Bob Gunton as TV Newsman #3
Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald
John Larroquette as Jerry Johnson (credited on Director’s Cut)
Donald Sutherland as X
Sissy Spacek as Liz Garrison
Sally Kirkland as Rose Cheramie
Jack Lemmon as Jack Martin
Laurie Metcalf as Susie Cox
Vincent D’Onofrio as Bill Newman
Peter Maloney as Colonel Finck
Jay O. Sanders as Lou Ivon
John William Galt as L.B.J. (voice)
Ron Rifkin as Mr. Goldberg / Spiesel (credited on Director’s Cut)
Bill Bolender as Prisoner Powell
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Lee Bowers
Gary Grubbs as Al Oser
Kevin Bacon as Willie O’Keefe
Wayne Knight as Numa Bertel
Frank Whaley as Oswald Imposter (credited on Director’s Cut)
J.J. Johnston as Mobster with Broussard
Michael Rooker as Bill Broussard
John Candy as Dean Andrews
Walter Matthau as Senator Long
Ed Asner as Guy Bannister
Brian Doyle-Murray as Jack Ruby
Ray LePere as Abraham Zapruder
Tom Howard as Lyndon B. Johnson
Lolita Davidovich as Beverly Oliver
Jim Garrison as Earl Warren
Beata Pozniak as Marina Oswald
Tony Plana as Carlos Bringuier
Ron Jackson as FBI Spokesman
Sean Stone as Jasper Garrison
John S. Davies as Hobo #2
Tomás Milián as Leopoldo
Raul Aranas as Angelo
Gail Cronauer as Janet Williams
Gary Carter as Bill Williams
James N. Harrell as Sam Holland
Ellen McElduff as Jean Hill
Jo Anderson as Julia Ann Mercer
Marco Perella as Mercer Interrogator
Edwin Neal as Mercer Interrogator
Darryl Cox as FBI Agent #2 with Hill
T.J. Kennedy as Hill Interrogator
R. Bruce Elliott as Bolton Ford Dealer
William Larsen as Will Fritz
Wayne Tippit as FBI Agent – Frank
Dale Dye as General Y
Jerry Douglas as Board Room Man
Ryan MacDonald as Board Room Man
Duane Grey as Board Room Man
George R. Robertson as White House Man
Baxter Harris as White House Man
John Seitz as General Lemnitzer
Alex Rodine as White House Man
Sam Stoneburner as White House Man
John P. Finnegan as Judge Haggerty
Walter Breaux as Vernon Bundy
Melodee Bowman as FBI Receptionist
Richard Rutowski as Fence Shooter
Price Carson as Tippet
Gil Glasgow as Tippet Shooter
Bob Orwig as Officer Poe
Hugh Feagin as Dr. Rose (credited on Director’s Cut)
George Kelly as Jerry Johnson’s Sidekick (credited on Director’s Cut)
Victor Kempster as Samuel (credited on Director’s Cut)
Maria Mason as Garrison’s Secretary (credited in Director’s Cut)
Kevin Beard as (uncredited)
Jeffrey Bornstein as Hitman (uncredited)
Marie Del Marco as Secretary in Window (uncredited)
Alan Donnes as Reporter (uncredited)
Orlando Gallegos as Plaza Witness (uncredited)
Robert J. Groden as Courtroom Projectionist (uncredited)
Chuck Kelley as Dallas County Sherriff (uncredited)
Codie Scott as Man in Court (uncredited)
Martin Sheen as Narrator (voice) (uncredited)
Jacquelyn Twodat Jackson as Restaurant diner (uncredited)
John F. Kennedy as Himself (archive footage)
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