JFK(1991)

JFK-posterJFK will rank as one of the films which I have seen for the most number of times in my life. I grabbed a Director’s Cut copy of it during a vacation in Kolkata in 2012 and ever since have watched it for more than a hundred times over and over again. The prolonged run-time of 206 minutes is, as is apparent, specific to the director’s cut in comparison to the trimmed up 189 minutes for the Theatrical version. Every time I watch JFK, I just marvel at the epic scale that Stone undertook and was able to pull off with such elan. The assassination of JFK was probably one of the most talked about and dwelled upon incidents and to be able to wrap around such a sensitive issue is in itself a masterstroke.

JFK chronicles the journey of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans District Attorney, as he powers his way through American politics, the CIA and a gamut of hostile characters to take a swing at what he considered the most heinous crime meted out to the American people. Jim Garrison is aided by a bunch of difficult to put off colleagues who are in turns ready to go down with him and bear the brunt of a ruthless CIA. His public prosecution was the only every in the Kennedy assassination. In his quest to prove a conspiracy in the murder of the president, Garrison is able to unearth some shocking evidences in the form of what is known as the Zapruder film which pointed astern figure at the presence of more than one assassin on the spot. He believed that if the evidence of the film proved the presence of a second assassin then the existence of a plot to gun down the president could not be ignored. What starts off as a mission to unearth the truth behind the killing brings out truths that threaten the base of American democracy and those who helm it.

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The real JFK

Adapted from the books “On the Trail of the Assassins” and “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy” by Jim Garrison himself and Jim Marrs respectively for the screen, JFK takes an exhaustive and detailed look at the things. Every scene is rich in details, drama and thrills. It very easy for such a film to dwell close to the line of a documentary but stone masterfully steers clear of that. JFK is entertaining and the audience who will sit through its rather long runtime once gets hold of the happening will not feel time. The initial half might be a tad difficult to comprehend but with the investigation starting, the film moves into alleys which we have traversed before and does become comprehensible. But having said that, this is one of those films that has to be seen again and again and again to fully suck in the varied details and the poetic beauty that has become so scarce these days.

Some of the scenes from this movie will remain forever etched in my memory. The Final courtroom scene, the sequence in the scene where Costner breaks down into tears expressing his views on the assassination. The scene were Garrison questions Shaw brings two powerhouse of talent face to face. The sequence where Garrison finds himself on top of the Book Suppository building investigating the circumstances of the shootout is rich in drama and content. Garrison’s discussions with his wife provide us valuable input into his psyche and thought process. The initial buildup also provides for captivating cinema.

Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison in the famous courtroom sequence.
Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison in the famous courtroom sequence.

The supporting cast of Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Edward Ashner and even Kevin Becon, takes the narrative to such heights from which it’s impossible even to fall. Tommy Lee Jones is almost unrecognizable in the character of Clay Shaw. The nerves, the tension, the angst and the villainy of the character is wonderfully brought out by him and comparing the look and feel of the real Shaw, I found a striking resemblance. Joe Pesci is his usual self. However towards the end when he starts to fall apart, he becomes a real treat to watch. Edward Ashner as Guy Banister has brief but extremely effective role. Kevin Becon as Willie O’Keefe is noticeable. Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald is picture perfect.

Every actor has a role in his life which is born to play and I strongly feel that for Kevin Costner, it was Jim Garrison. The way in which he brings out the frustration of the character at knowing the obvious and yet totally unable to do anything about it is outstanding. During the final prosecution when he breaks down at his own helplessness and that of the American people is thought provoking to say the least.

JFK is much more than a film. It is an authentic documentation of a period of time. An extremely important piece of history. A lesson which we should all remember. It will also serve as a thorough entertainer and textbook on how to envision, plan and execute a film of such epic proportions. It surely ranks as one of my favorite films of all times.