JFK (1991)

<strong class="MovieTitle">JFK</strong> (1991)

(On DVD, May 2017) As someone who’s almost viciously opposed to conspiracy theories, I’m about as far as you can imagine from being someone predisposed to like JFK. As a self-conscious “counter-myth” to the official conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, JFK multiplies outlandish claims and plot in order to present a messy version of history in which powerful interests conspired to kill a sitting president. From a substance perspective, JFK often feels like a big ball of nonsense, spitting in all directions and actively introducing bad ideas in the discourse. But the big surprise is that despite all of this, I really liked the movie. It is, in many ways, a triumph of execution. Much of it has to do with its hyperactive style of editing, which feels very modern even twenty-five years later. It’s even more remarkable in that contrarily to much of the rapid-fire digital editing since then, JFK’s editing makes sense both from a content and container perspective: it’s often used to fake documentary proof, distinguish between periods, introduce flashbacks (sometimes even flashbacks within flashbacks) and peer into the characters’ minds … and it almost always makes sense. Acting credentials as solid, with a solid Kevin Costner in the lead, and various supporting roles played by such surprising names as Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones (in a very atypical role), Donald Sutherland, Gary Oldman and many others who are not always instantly recognizable in their roles. It all culminates in a barnstormer of a speech that will leave even conspiracy-skeptics cheering for truth and untainted democracy. For a three-hour film, JFK flies by and impresses even as a propaganda piece. It’s kind of amazing, actually, that such a piece of firebrand cinema would be so closely associated with major studio Warner Brothers. The years have been kind to JFK, even though its theory seems increasingly dubious (twenty-five years later, and no deathbed confessions…), its craft seems just as solid now as ever … and perhaps a bit less disorienting as it must have been then.

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