In every discussion of conspiracy theories, one historical event and figure comes up time and time again. United States President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22nd 1963 by a lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. That is if you believe the findings of the Warren Commission, which it is clear that director Oliver Stone does not. His 1991 film JFK sought to show the failings of officials and the Government at the time and to uncover the truth of the events on that fateful day in Texas.
District attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) is put in charge of the court proceedings surrounding the sudden assassination of President Kennedy. After Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) is charged and convicted, he too is assassinated and the investigation comes to an end. Three years later however Garrison begins to piece together clues that suggest that the assassination may not have been as cut and dry as expected and begins digging deeper and makes a startling series of discoveries.
You cannot mention JFK the film without mentioning its length. At a less-than-lean 3 hours 10 minutes, it is a sprawling behemoth of a drama. From the initial slow-build historical exposition, through the tense investigation and interview process all the way to the dramatic finale in the courtroom and the now infamous Back and to the left quote, you cannot argue that Oliver Stone does not present a full and thorough investigative piece. But this proves both its triumph and downfall. The subject matter is so fascinating and the plot so full of twists and interlocking themes that it’s impossible not to be engrossed, but after a time the endless verbal accounts become a little overblown, with so much information poured into the audiences heads that you can’t help but feel some expositional burnout.
Stone has cleverly provided one of the finest casts ever assembled with names young and old including Jack Lemmon, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf and even John Candy. Every new face or new lead is punctuated with a recognisable face and they all deliver in their own unique way. But the strength of the narrative relies on two performances, those of Kevin Costner and Gary Oldman. The two men, who are pivotal to understanding the conspiracy, are both played to perfection. Costner is on low-key form as the man driven by a desire for the truth, whose personal life is constantly under the spotlight of media ridicule and being prevented from delving further by those in a position of power. Meanwhile, the man at the centre of the storm, Oldman’s Oswald brings a quiet intensity to the role and his position is constantly questioned and re-evaluated to the point where he becomes sympathetic, although never a hero in the traditional sense.
As the film twists and turns from out-and-out drama to biopic via courtroom piece and political thriller, Stone’s exceptional directional eye does the best it can to keep the pace flowing. The exposition, while utterly key, does slow things from time to time and its apparent that he wants to include as much as he can get away with. It’s a personal piece about an event of global proportions and in a lesser auteur’s hands it would likely be bogged down in its own self-importance. But with Stone at the helm and a superb cast all giving their own fantastic performances this is an important and incredibly well-crafted piece of political theory wrapped up in a traditional film format. Many will argue about it’s presentation of ˜facts’ within, it’s tough not to get caught up in the investigation.