The story of dedicated D.A. Jim Garrison’s (Kevin Costner) pursuit of the truth behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In a massive cast, the most prominent are Sissy Spacek as Garrison’s worried wife, Gary Oldman as the one and only (or is he?) Lee Harvey Oswald, Joe Pesci as toupee wearing David Ferrie (an apparent associate of Oswald’s, flamboyantly gay man, and possible paedophile), Michael Rooker one of Garrison’s loyal co-workers, and Tommy Lee Jones is the flamboyant businessman Clay Shaw, whom Garrison charges with the President’s murder and who he obsessively pursues. Cameos include Donald Sutherland as ‘X’, Garrison’s ghostly Pentagon source, Kevin Bacon as gay convict Willie O’Keefe (who informs Garrison of the homosexual leanings of Ferrie, Shaw, and Oswald as well as an apparent triangulated assassination plan they hatched), Jack Lemmon plays an investigator (who has met Ferrie on numerous occasions), and Walter Matthau a senator who doesn’t buy the ‘Oswald acted alone’ theory, either.
Even though there’s way too much information flying about to really follow it in one sitting, this 1991 Oliver Stone (“Platoon”, “Born on the 4th of July”) film is admirably exhaustive stuff and highly fascinating for conspiracy buffs (of which I am at least a part-timer) and film buffs (who can play a game of ‘spot the star cameo’).
Extremely well-acted across the board, with a very credible Costner the anchor (in perhaps a thankless role, which Stone had originally wanted Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson for), and scene-stealing turns by a flashy Jones (earning his first Oscar nomination), bizarro Pesci (chewing every bit of scenery in sight, with a dopey red-brown wig), seedy Bacon, old pros Lemmon and Matthau, and especially the spooky Sutherland and a non-comedic John Candy as you’ve never seen him before. Oldman is also well-cast as Oswald, though the role isn’t terribly well-developed, surprisingly.
The scenes of Garrison’s marital woes with a wasted Spacek are entirely unnecessary and clichéd. Spacek’s character behaves entirely unreasonably in my view. Her husband has a very important job to do and she’s bitching that he’s always working and putting their lives in danger? Gimme a break, woman. The President got freakin’ assassinated, for cryin’ out loud!
I can’t say I was able to keep up with it all the time, but at no point was I bored during this absorbing extremely well-made flick. Kudos to Stone for not making a total mess out of it or a three-hour boring history lesson. Nominated for several Oscars (including Picture, Direction and Writing) it won for Cinematography by Robert Richardson (“Platoon”, “Born on the 4th of July”), and Editing. The screenplay is by the director and Zachary Sklar (based on books by Jim Marss and Jim Garrison himself, who plays Earl Warren in the film). Stone probably takes a lot of dramatic license, but that’s OK for what is more of a conspiracy theory thriller anyway. I think a lot of people miss the big point on this one. It’s Oliver Stone’s “JFK”, not American history’s “JFK”. There’s a big difference, and so long as you can appreciate that, this is pretty compelling stuff.