Oliver Stone's controversial film JFK has drawn the ire of both political conservatives and members of the liberal media establishment. What these critics of the film have in common is an acceptance of the 1964 report of the Warren Commission which was created to put an end to public speculations about the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
In one of the ironies of history, the Warren Commission's report actually gave new encouragement to conspiracy buffs. In 1966, Esquire published "A Primer of Assassination Theories" listing 30 versions of the murder, almost all of them at odds with the official government version.
Oliver Stone's version is based on Jim Garrison's On the Trail of Assassins and Jim Marrs's Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Opening with a kinescope of Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address warning about the dangerous growth in power of the military-industrial complex, JFK goes on to hypothesize that John F. Kennedy was the victim of a cabal consisting of military generals, arms manufacturers, CIA-hired assassins, the FBI, the Secret Service, and other right-wing crazies who were all appalled at the President's intention to pull out of Vietnam.
Kevin Costner plays Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney who finds the official explanations about the assassination to be unconvincing. After an intensive investigation of his own aided by a dogged team of supporters Garrison decides to prosecute New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy in the murder of the 35th President of the United States. In the dramatic trial sequences, the Zapruder film is used to blow a hole in the single bullet theory. Although Garrison loses the case, he walks out of the courtroom a hero in his own eyes for taking a stand against the corrupt and powerful establishment.
Oliver Stone makes superb use of the interplay between dramatic scenes, newsreel clips, television footage, and overlapping dialogue. The film editors deserve Oscars for their work.
There are so many characters in JFK that it is hard to keep track of all the players. Stone has drawn some exceptionally fine performances from Tommy Lee Jones as the slippery Clay Shaw, Michael Rooker as one of Garrison's top assistants, Joe Pesci as a pilot for hire, Kevin Bacon as a gay hustler, and Donald Sutherland as Garrison's Deep Throat.
Oliver Stone's JFK does not provide all the answers to why Kennedy was assassinated or how it really happened. However, it does help us put into place a few more pieces in this puzzle. The big picture will not be known until 2029 when the files of the House Secret Committee on Assassination are opened. As a political thriller and as a partial puzzle solver, JFK is riveting.