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JFK (1991)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Based on the book On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Marrs, Jim Garrison

Screenplay by Oliver Stone, Zachary Sklar

Starring: Kevin Costner, Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Walter Matthau, Joe Pesci, Vincent D’Onofrio, Laurie Metcalf, Donald Sutherland, Ed Asner

Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Costner) discovers that there might be more to the story. Garrison begins his own investigation, implicating a number of powerful people.

This film is based on the 1988 book On the Trail of the Assassins which was written by Jim Marrs and Jim Garrison. Oliver Stone (Platoon) directed the movie, using a script he and  Zachary Sklar (The Feast of the Goat) adapted from the book. The cast of this film includes Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), Sissy Spacek (The Help), Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men), and Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour). The list continues with Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot), Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple), Joe Pesci (My Cousin Vinny), and Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World). Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People), Ed Asner (Elf), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) also have roles in this one. JFK would eventually be nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

This movie tells the fascinating story of Jim Garrison’s search for answers in the wake of the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The story begins with a powerful series of scenes involving the assassination and the events immediately afterwards. From there, the writing begins introducing the wide array of characters who factor in to the bigger picture. The script does a good job of keeping things from being too obvious. Some scenes seem almost inconsequential until they’re revisited much later on. As the theory evolves, the story comes back to those moments to expose their real worth. The plot builds momentum like a train, slowly at first and then with ever-increasing speed. Despite a long run time, there isn’t much wasted time.

Most of the dialogue in the film works nicely. The actors were given a lot to work with thanks to the colorful world the script created. There are a couple of moments that seem to preach a little, but it’s not heavy-handed enough to be a problem. Overall, this one has the feel of a political drama with the suspense of a classic detective film. The tension in the story comes through the conclusion the story attempts to reach as it builds to a climax. The payoffs are solid, but it’s also a movie that leaves room for the audience to draw their own conclusions. Stone and Sklar were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the script they produced for this film.

It’s impossible to mention every one of the stars who bring something special to this one. The characters are wonderfully written, and the performances create a world of unique personalities. Kevin Costner leads the movie with a performance that gives life to the conflict and concern within his character. At times he does seem to push the drama a little too hard, but there’s a conviction to his performance that sells the dialogue. He also develops a nice chemistry with the actors around him. Another one of the standout performances in this one come from Gary Oldman’s work as Lee Harvey Oswald. His emotional and intense portrayal of the alleged assassin adds something powerful to the movie. Another nice performance in this one comes from Sissy Spacek. Her moments with Costner help to humanize both of their characters and put the events of the film into perspective.

I could spend pages talking about the performances in this movie. With each viewing, I find new actors to praise. Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his excellent work in this one. There are some wonderful moments with Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and Joe Pesci. Ed Asner, Michael Rooker, Laurie Metcalf, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Donald Sutherland also bring great work to the movie. It’s a truly talented ensemble that brings this one to life and elevates the material, making this a classic.

The score of a film can often elevate a film by finding the right times to accent the action. This is especially true of John Williams’ score in this one. The music helps to maintain the tone of the story and accents some of the more powerful scenes. His work earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. The movie also got a nomination for Best Sound.

The cinematography of this movie is also very nicely done. Robert Richardson (Hugo) won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his contribution to the film. The camera work isn’t tricky, but it helps to add a visual tension to the movie. It also does a good job capturing the locations and sets used to create the world of the film. The movie also has great set decoration and costuming that bring a seemingly authentic version of the 1960’s to life. In addition to the Oscar for cinematography, Joe Hutshing (The Greatest Showman) and Pietro Scalia (Gladiator) also took home the award for Best Film Editing.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been surrounded in conspiracy theories and unanswered questions since the Warren Report was released in 1964. The film does a nice job of giving voice to Jim Garrison’s efforts. Oliver Stone’s politics do come into play, but this doesn’t seem to push an agenda. If you’re a fan of political thrillers or deep drama, this one is a must-see. I would also suggest this to fans of any of the stars. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a classic that holds up nicely after more than 25 years. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Running Time: 189 Minutes

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