Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone and Zachary Skylar. Based on books by Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs.
In my early years of being a serious movie fan Oliver Stone was my absolute and unopposed favorite filmmaker. There were others I loved but none I thought had the talent or brilliance of Stone. He had made the movie that today still stands as my favorite of all time and his body of work was impeccable as far as I was concerned. Stone did more than make great movies; he made epic stories that were woven together with great acting, intelligent scripts, and incredible editing. This movie was part of what I thought made him so great. This movie is perfectly put together and will undoubtedly convince any unaware viewer that Lee Harvey Oswald was not only not an assassin but possibly some very important man involved in the greater and deadlier game of high end politics and conspiracy. Having done extensive research on the matter I can all but guarantee that is not the case but that does not take anything away from this movie. This movie is 100% fiction, but that does not change the fact that it is both a significant film and a true work of art.
First and foremost, as far as any conspiracy theory goes, it is important to know two things. Number one being that Jim Garrison was not the character Kevin Costner portrayed in the film. He was a bully and borderline madman who was not fighting for justice but simply stirring up trouble. Secondly, Lee Harvey Oswald was neither a government agent, nor any kind of patriot as the movie will lead you to believe. He was not a patsy; he was a nobody that changed the world by doing something big. Oswald was a sad and pathetic man that hated this country as much as he hated his life. What he did he did on his own, and there is enough evidence to that effect to prove it beyond any reasonable doubt. Oswald was an interesting person, as all sad and slightly unhinged people are but the fact of the matter was he was a nut job. Plain and simple crazy is all he was and anybody that thinks otherwise simply needs to do their own research and quit listening to conspiracy buffs. Yes the circumstances of his life, and death, can easily lead people to the conclusion that there must be more to the story but there isn’t. He did it, we know he did it, and a conspiracy on the level this movie implies is simply not possible. Michael Rooker’s character said it best in the movie when he pointed out they were building an investigation into a conspiracy involving all levels of government, the mob, and military yet they could not keep a secret among 12 people in their own office. People talk, a secret on this level could never be kept. Especially 50 years later. I know there are undoubtedly many secrets the government has from us as citizens but one thing to keep in mind is that we learn many of them as time goes on. Today we know who Deep Throat was, we know FDR secretly manipulated events to lead us into WWII, we know that the U.S.S. Maine wasn’t sunk by enemies; we know that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was overblown to lead us into war, and the list goes on and on. These secrets are revealed when the history books are written yet conspiracy buffs will have you believe that this major conglomerate of conspirators have managed to keep this one secret even until today. I am simply telling you it isn’t there. Occam’s razor applies in this case. Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK, and things are not as dramatic and exciting as we would like to build them up in our mind.
This movie makes a really big deal about the “magic bullet” and that is what I hear most people mention when they insist there had to be a conspiracy. The “magic bullet” does present a convincing argument but only because the facts are never all on the table. This bullet didn’t make dramatic turns in midair or stop and start again. It was simply one shot that traveled on a straight line and passed through both Kennedy and Connally. What you don’t see in this movie or hear from conspiracy buffs is that the vehicle Kennedy and Connally were riding in was not typical. It was built differently than most in which the front seat was lower and to the left of the back. The bullet was a post Geneva Convention bullet that was specifically designed to pass through the body. There are plenty of diagrams online and in conspiracy books that will show you this strange pattern that no bullet could possible travel but they never take into account how the car was built or the exact positions of the passengers. I have seen the true diagram in both the Warren Report, and in a very good book by Gerald Posner called “Case Closed.” It’s not as dramatic as some would have you believe and it doesn’t leave much room for doubt if you understand the true circumstances of the shot.
Another important part of the conspiracy theory to consider is Jack Ruby, played incredibly in this film by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill Murray. There is absolutely no room for Jack Ruby to have been involved in any conspiracy. Not only is there documented evidence that proves his crossing paths with Oswald before he killed him was coincidental, but Ruby did not attempt to kill Oswald. This movie would have you believe that Ruby was a button man for the mob making a hit on Oswald when he shot him but that simply isn’t the case. Ruby is on record saying that he never actually intended to kill Oswald, only hurt him badly and this is obvious. If Ruby was in fact out to kill Oswald why shoot him in the stomach? He shot him in the stomach in an effort to put him in a world of pain, but if he had truly intended to kill him he would have shot him in the head or chest. Ruby was a small time nightclub owner/snitch who would not have been the choice for this type of kill if it was a planned hit. Ruby was deeply upset over the death of JFK and the effect it would have on his beautiful wife and children. When he coincidentally showed up right as Oswald was being led out he saw a smirk on his face he couldn’t live with. Pulling his gun and shooting Oswald was nothing more than a simple crime of passion. I said that Ruby crossing paths with Oswald was coincidental because it was. There is documented evidence that proves Ruby was across the street wiring money by way of Western Union only minutes before he shot Oswald. He literally only had enough time to walk back across the street and be there at the right moment. Had it been a planned hit this is not how it would have happened. Not only that, but Oswald should have been long gone by the time Ruby reached the parking garage anyway. He wanted a different sweater or something before being led out and in the time it took to get one Ruby had wired his money and was coming back. Executions aren’t done this way and if it was set up then Jack Ruby was the luckiest assassin of all time, and that just isn’t the case.
What this movie does a great job of is convincing you that there absolutely had to be a conspiracy. Oliver Stone may have been a great filmmaker but he has always had something personal invested in his movies. He has an agenda and in this case it was to convince us that there was a conspiracy regardless of whether there was any truth to it. In fact many of the things that Stone has in this movie aren’t false, yet they aren’t based on any credible evidence. Most of the interviews taken and quoted were from people who either changed their story later or eventually came out with the truth of the matter. For example, the character played by Kevin Bacon, Willie O’Keefe. There was no Willie O’Keefe; he is based off a combination of real life people who had no credibility. Most notably he is based on a man named Perry Russo, one of the key witnesses against Claw Shaw in the real trial. Russo was lying though, and in order to get the testimony he wanted Jim Garrison in real life both drugged and hypnotized Russo. As I said earlier though, the real Jim Garrison was not the person we saw Kevin Costner play in the movie. The real Jim Garrison was a bit unhinged and a little crazy. In the case of David Ferrie, played brilliantly by Joe Pesci in the film, the movie would have us believe he was murdered to keep him quiet. In real life things were much different. David Ferrie was a sickly man already, and it is said that the pressure put on him by the offices of Jim Garrison was what finally put him on his death bed. He was hounded day and night by the offices of Garrison and became very paranoid and apprehensive. The stress proved to be more than he could handle, he died shortly after the news of his involvement in Garrison’s investigation broke. There have been reports that he was in the CIA but all reports have been conflicting. The conspiracy theories that sprang up in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination eventually took on a life of their own. It’s a school of thought that is still growing today and it has always called all kinds of people out of the wood work seeking their five minutes of fame with “new information.”
Despite any truth or accuracy as to the content of this film it is still one worth your time. It’s a significant movie because it convinced so many people with its message that the case was actually re-opened by the government. What did the government find in that investigation? Nothing, new evidence was released and scheduled for eventual release but nothing was uncovered to change what we already know. Still, when a movie is powerful enough to call for government action it’s something worth remembering.
So while its message is way off base it’s still an incredible movie. The cast is so large it would take me forever to go through everybody involved but I will say they all did a terrific job. Gary Oldman might as well have actually been Lee Harvey Oswald he fit the part so well. Joe Pesci was on the spot as usual, nobody brings intensity to a role quite like him. Tommy Lee Jones plays a great part but I don’t think it was his best role in an Oliver Stone movie. John Candy has an incredible cameo that shows he had the potential to be much more than simply a funny guy. Brian Doyle-Murray was a great choice to play Jack Ruby and he did great. Kevin Costner was a big draw when this movie came out having hit it big the year before with Dances with Wolves. I have never been a big fan though, and I don’t think he was great in this movie, merely OK. I probably like him less though because of his obviously forced accent and the fact he played a guy who was quite a bit crazier than he made him out to be. Sissy Spacek, Wayne Knight, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Ed Asner, Michael Rooker, and Laurie Metcalf also should be mentioned because each of them brought something to the film on their own. I also liked seeing both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the movie as well, the men were both legends and it is unfortunate that they are not with us today.
I need to stop myself now because I have already said much more than I intended to in this review. I have of course been very critical of the content of this film and I understand how controversial those opinions may be to the “believers.” Feel free to argue with me if you like but I encourage anybody unsure to simply do their own research and ignore all the people that would have you believe they know something about something that proves there had to be a conspiracy. Nevertheless this is still an incredible film despite any objections I may have to the conspiracy theory and I can certify that the movie is still well worth your time.
I thought this movie was so amazing and intriguing the first time I watched it. I think we were in college, and being young and naive I believed it for true history. You know the ol’ conspiracy theory stuff. But then, my incredibly smart husband wrote an in depth paper on the assassination of JFK. I listened to him talk about it, watched him read these massive sized books about it until he finally came to the conclusion that there never was a conspiracy at all it a lone gunman doing something crazy and succeeding. Having said all of that, I don’t believe there was a conspiracy, but I do think this a great movie. He sure can make you believe there may have been one.
NEXT MOVIE: Judgment Night (1993)