STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 295 minutes
• The Kennedy’s: America’s Emerald Kings documentary
Commentary with Director Oliver Stone
Production Notes for Cast and Crew
Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy
• Deleted & Extended Scenes
Multimedia Essays:
   • Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty
   • Assassination Update – The New Documents
• 44-page book of production photos
• Set of six character photo cards of actors
• Five reproduction letters by and to John F. Kennedy
• President Kennedy’s Inauguration Address
• 20 Kennedy family and presidential photos

The Pitch

“Tennyson wrote, ‘Authority forgets a dying king.  This was never more true than for John F. Kennedy, whose murder was probably one of the most terrible moments in the history of our country.'” – Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison.

The Humans

Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, Jack Lemmon, Laurie Metcalf, Joe Pesci, Jay O. Sanders, John Candy, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Sally Kirkland, Edward Asner, Wayne Knight, Vincent D’Onofrio, John F. Kennedy.

“Here’s to the new frontier.  Camelot in Smithereens.  I’ll drink to that.” – Edward Asner as W. Guy Banister

The Nutshell

In the wake of several inconsistencies with the official account of the assassination of President John Kennedy, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Costner) reopens the case and explores new avenues into the theory of a conspiracy surrounding that fateful day in Texas.  Garrison and his team run down leads that were ignored or overlooked by the Warren Commission, including a possible link between Lee Harvey Oswald (Oldman), the purported assassin, and a local businessman named Clay Shaw, aka Clay Bertrand (Jones).  Along the way, Garrison faces significant pushback from not only the community and his family, but also the government itself.  Mixing dramatic recreation footage with archival footage, and bringing to light the innumerable disparities in the official account of November 22, 1963, JFK, dares to ask, “What really happened in Dealey Plaza?”

“You have any idea what you’re getting yourself into, Daddio?  The government’s gonna jump all over your head, Jimbo and go cock-a-doodle-doo.” – John Candy as Dean Andrews

The Lowdown

JFK is one of those movies that inspires nearly as much debate as the source material upon which it’s based.  In the case of the Kennedy Assassination, there are few topics in recent history that have been debated more.  With that in mind, one could still ask if Stone successfully makes his case for his side of the argument.  Well, yes and no.  The data that he incorporates into the film is detailed, meticulous and thorough.  However, JFK still presents as many questions as it answers, and it often goes into tangents and suppositions of dubious nature.  Nevertheless, one thing that is certain is that, whatever the level of historical correctness it has, JFK is simply a stunning film. 

“Y’all are gonna have to start thinking on another level here, like the CIA does. Now we’re through the looking glass here, people. White is black…and black is white. – Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison

Slogging through the morass that is the realm of Kennedy Assassination conspiracies,
JFK takes its cue from the investigations of DA Jim Garrison and the leads he followed as he pursued a supposed New Orleans connection to Dallas in trying to build a case against local businessman, Claw Shaw.  Garrison’s investigation leads him to conclude that Shaw, a pilot named Dave Ferrie (Pesci), a local private investigator and former intelligence operative, Guy Banister (Asner), all of whom were involved with anti-Castro Cuban rebels, as well as a local male prostitute, Willie O’Keefe (Bacon), were associates to certain degrees of Lee Harvey Oswald in the summer of 1963.  Garrison also pursues the ballistic, testimonial and procedural inconsistencies in the Warren Commission report and digs into Oswald’s shady past prior to the assassination. 

“You know what I think?  I think you care more about John Kennedy than you do your own family.” – Sissy Spacek as Liz Garrison

At first a covert operation, Garrison’s investigation is eventually exposed to the public at large, and that’s when he starts receiving pressure from society, his wife, the government and various other entities to drop the whole thing.  Garrison nevertheless doggedly continues and becomes convinced that while there is some considerable government involvement, and Oswald was most likely a “patsy” who was probably a former government intelligence agent, he believes that the the ties to Cuba and the mob are key. 

However, it’s not until he meets with a high-level government informant, Mr. X (Sutherland), that his eyes are truly opened to the magnitude of the entire affair.  According to X, it was Kennedy’s plans to pull out of Viet Nam and restructure the intelligence power structure in Washington that led to his assassination.  All of the red herrings, including supposed multiple Oswalds running around Dallas in the months before the assassination, as well as the Mafia and Castro ties are decoys to hide the real truth.

“This is too fucking big for you, do you know that?  Who did the president?  Who killed Kenn- FUCK man!  It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!  The fucking shooters don’t even know!  Don’t you get it?” – Joe Pesci as Dave Ferrie

In an impassioned and lengthy court room climax, Garrison is further stymied by various witnesses and the judge himself to tie Clay Shaw to the CIA.  He pulls out the Abraham Zapruder film, which contradicts direct Warren Commission evidence naming Oswald as the lone shooter.  He refutes the “magic bullet” theory, which says that only one of Oswald’s bullets, following an impossible series of trajectories, caused some seven wounds to Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connelly.  He also challenges the timeline of Oswald’s movements during and after the shooting.  Finally, he implores the jury to not to “forget their dying king.” 

“That’s the real question isn’t it: Why?  The how and the who is just scenery for the public.  Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia.  It keeps them guessing like a parlor game and keeps them from asking the most important question: Why?  Why was Kennedy killed?  Who profited from it?  Who has the power to cover it up?” – Donald Sutherland as X.

The conclusions reached by Stone in
JFK are as debatable as the assassination itself.  But in presenting his case, Stone has crafted a labyrinthine narrative filled with dozens of characters, featuring some excellent performances and especially, Oscar-winning editing and cinematography, by John Hutshing and Pietro Scalia, and Robert Richardson respectively.  Costner is in his zone as his signature type of character, a Capraesque crusader, beset on all sides in pursuit of the truth. 

His last reel court performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Other performances that stand out are Jones in an Oscar-nominated turn as Shaw, and a criminally short and completely-against-type performance by John Candy as the weaselly New Orleans lawyer Dean Andrews.  And Pesci’s Dave Ferrie is a ferocious, neurotic jumble of frazzled nerves, bile and duplicity.  Also, just the sheer number of Hollywood notables that appear in the film is amazing.

Personally, I think Stone deserved the Oscar just for getting this shot…

“…back and to the left.  Back and to the left.  Back and to the left.  Back…and to the left.” – Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison

JFK is one of Oliver Stone’s best films.  It did precisely what it was intended to do: stirred up the old issues with a vengeance.  I was working at a movie theatre in 1991 and was astounded by the premises put together by the film and how Stone presented it.  Just seeing the Zapruder film for the first time took me aback.  The director’s cut of the movie add 17 minutes and doesn’t appreciably raise the bar, but does add plenty of background to the story.  This certainly isn’t light movie fair by any stretch of the imagination, but it does succeed in making the many complex issues accessible to the average viewer, although a program is needed to keep all of the players straight.  Whether it’s the gospel or bullshit, you can’t deny that this is an exceptionally crafted film. 

The Package

Impressive as it is, with its two-inch thick glossy packaging, this
JFK offering is mostly a coffee table presentation of material already released.  It has the 2001 director’s cut of the film, with the exact same features that were offered back then, including Stone’s commentary, along with a few bells and whistles independent of the movie, like production photos, reproduction letters and various Kennedy memorabilia.  There’s also the documentary, The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, which is akin to something you’d see on the History Channel, thrown in.  The other big doco is the 1992 companion piece, Beyond JFK, The Question of Conspiracy, which explores the issue in further detail with contributors to the film and several of the actors. 

“Hitler said, ‘The bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it.'” – Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison

With the photos and reproduction letters, this box set made to be thrown out for display.  If you don’t have the director’s cut of the film and like this showy type of presentation, then by all means get it.  If you do already have it, there’s not much here that demands you get rid of it for this instead.  If this were to be a true Ultimate Collector’s Edition, one would expect brand new material, like a commentary from Costner at the least.

8.9 out of 10