Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) refuses to believe the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and decides to do his own investigation. Along with his team, Garrison discovers that there may have been a conspiracy involving the CIA to kill JFK. Garrison’s search leads to a prominent gay businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), who may have been a pawn in the assassination. But as Garrison brings the case to trial; several key witnesses meet an untimely death and it becomes harder and harder for him to prosecute Clay. And although Garrison is ultimately unsuccessful, he does manage to make many Americans second guess the cover story that was passed off onto the general public regarding the assassination.
Even if you don’t agree with all of director Oliver Stone’s conspiracy theories, you have to admit that the discovery and unraveling of the various plot threads is rather exhilarating. I’m usually adamant that every movie should be 90 minutes long but even though this flick is over three hours, it’s still riveting from the first frame to the last. I particularly liked when the flick becomes a big budget snuff film as Garrison shows the Zapruder film over and over again. Here we get to see Kennedy’s head exploding several times in glorious slow motion. Then there are the autopsy scenes were the doctors remove JFK’s brain. Very few people could get away with this kind of stuff in a big budget prestigious movie but Oliver Stone is definitely one of them.
The only scenes that didn’t work for me were the domestic scenes between Garrison and his shrill wife (Sissy Spacek). Luckily these soap opera asides only take up about 15 minutes of the film’s 3 hour plus running time. The rest of the movie is virtually flawless.
Costner has never been better and that’s saying a lot. This is him at the top of his game and proves that he can maintain an accent throughout an entire film (well, for the most part). The incredible supporting cast includes Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald, Kevin Bacon and Joe Pesci as Clay’s gay cohorts, and Donald Sutherland as the mysterious Mr. X who gives Garrison key information.
But Oliver Stone is the real star of the picture. His obsessive attention to detail is rather astounding and I liked the way the film’s energy matches the breathless intensity of it’s main character. Incredibly, Stone managed to top himself three years later with Natural Born Killers.
JFK is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1991 at the Number 5 spot which sandwiches it right in between Showdown in Little Tokyo and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.