Revisiting 'JFK': Where cinematic brilliance meets historical and political Intrigue
Poster of JFK
  • Release Date: 19/12/1991
  • Cast: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Edward Asner, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman
  • Director: Oliver Stone

‘JFK’ ranks as one of the films I have seen the greatest number of times in my life. I obtained a Director’s Cut copy of it during a vacation in Kolkata in 2012, and ever since, I have watched it over and over again more than a hundred times. The extended runtime of 206 minutes is specific to the director’s cut, in contrast to the trimmed 189-minute Theatrical version. Each time I watch ‘JFK’, I am amazed by the epic scale that Oliver Stone reached for and executed with such finesse. The assassination of JFK was one of the most discussed and pondered incidents. Wrapping such a sensitive issue into an over 3-hour-long epic with not a single moment of respite for the audience is a masterstroke in itself.

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‘JFK’ chronicles the journey of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans District Attorney, as he navigates through American politics, the CIA, and a range of hostile characters to confront what he deemed the most heinous crime against the American people. Jim Garrison is supported by a group of determined colleagues who are willing to stand by him and face the repercussions of a ruthless CIA trying their best to cover up the assassination. Garrison’s public prosecution was the only one in the Kennedy assassination. In his quest to prove a conspiracy in the president’s murder, Garrison uncovers shocking evidence in the form of the Zapruder film, which suggests the presence of more than one assassin at the scene. He believed that if the film’s evidence proved the existence of a second assassin, then the plot to assassinate the president could not be ignored. What begins as a mission to uncover the truth behind the killing reveals truths that threaten the foundation of American democracy and those who lead it.

Adapted from the books ‘On the Trail of the Assassins’ by Jim Garrison himself and ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy’ by Jim Marrs, ‘JFK’ takes an exhaustive and detailed look at the events. Each scene is rich in detail, drama, and thrills. It’s easy for such a film to veer toward being a documentary, but Stone masterfully avoids that. ‘JFK’ is entertaining, and once the audience becomes engrossed in the events, the rather long runtime doesn’t feel noticeable. The initial half might be a bit challenging to grasp, but as the investigation unfolds, the film enters familiar territories and becomes easily intelligible. However, this is a film that needs to be watched repeatedly to fully absorb the diverse details and poetic beauty in every frame which is so rare these days.

Certain scenes from this film will forever be etched in my memory. The final courtroom scene, the moment when Costner breaks down in tears while expressing his views on the assassination, and the scene where Garrison’s character questions Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) brings two powerhouse talents face to face. The sequence where Garrison finds himself atop the infamous Book Depository building investigating the shootout’s circumstances is rich in drama and substance. Garrison’s conversations with his wife offer valuable insights into his psyche and thought process. The initial build-up also creates captivating drama that hooked me instantaneously.

The supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Edward Asner, and even Kevin Bacon elevates the narrative to heights from which falling seems impossible. Tommy Lee Jones is almost unrecognizable in the role of Clay Shaw. He wonderfully conveys the character’s nerves, tension, angst, and villainy. Comparing his appearance to the real Shaw, I noticed a striking resemblance. Joe Pesci is his usual self, but as his character begins to unravel towards the end, he becomes a true delight to watch. Edward Asner’s brief yet extremely effective role as Guy Banister stands out. Kevin Bacon’s performance as Willie O’Keefe is noteworthy. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald is picture-perfect.

Every actor has a role in their career that they seem destined to play, and I strongly believe that for Kevin Costner, it was Jim Garrison. The way he conveys the character’s frustration at recognizing the obvious yet being completely powerless to change it is remarkable. During the final prosecution, when he breaks down due to his own helplessness and that of the American people, it is thought-provoking and heartbreaking.

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‘JFK’ is much more than a film. It is an authentic documentation of a specific period in time—an extremely important piece of history. It also serves as a compelling entertainer and a textbook example of how to conceive, plan, and execute a film of such epic proportions. Without a doubt, it ranks as one of my favourite films of all time.

Rating: 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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