Oliver Stone's JFK opens with actual newsreel footage of the farewell speech of outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is soon followed by Martin Sheen's narration and more footage, this time of President John F. Kennedy's tenure as President. Also, some specific events are summarized which may have led to his eventual assassination.
Soon after this, we are presented with the reconstruction of the events, starting with that fateful moment on November 22, 1963 when JFK was assassinated in broad daylight at the Dealey Plaza. Kevin Costner plays the then New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison. He, along with his staff begin an initial investigation, suspecting conspiracy. However, soon after, the suspected lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) is killed before he can go to trial and Garrison decides to put a stop to the investigations.
Three years later, after Garrison is done with reading the entire Warren report detailing the assassination and adhering to the lone assassin theory, he begins to find several inconsistencies and inaccuracies in it. He then proceeds to reopen his investigation and rounds up several suspects, and even charges businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) with conspiracy and murder.
The film then proceeds to give the viewer a gripping look at Garrison's desperate attempts to prove conspiracy, interrogating numerous suspects and witnesses and to bring to justice all those involved directly or indirectly, including some top government officials as well!
As he rightly sums it up in one of his statements later in the movie: "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall".
Needless to say, such a challenging task also invites a lot of flack from almost all sectors.
Garrison also gets very little time to spend with his wife and kids. Domestic ups and downs follow, and Garrison's increasing obsession with Kennedy's assassination starts to take a toll on his personal as well as professional life. At one point, things get ugly when he starts receiving anonymous phone calls at his residence, and one particularly made to his little daughter. His wife gets increasingly frustrated at how her husband seems to be giving Kennedy more importance than his own family.
Garrison is well aware of the implications and knows that he may very well be ostracized for his acts. He even gives his staff the choice to pull out if they wish to , as he knows that the investigations could directly affect their careers.
Director Oliver Stone does a masterful job of presenting us with his and Garrison's take on the conspiracy theory surrounding one of the most devastating events in American history. He makes extensive use of actual footage and file photos from the case and intersperses them with the reconstruction that is the film, which itself is beautifully shot, partly in black and white, partly in colour and even in some grainy finish at times. The movie is long, but Stone does not give us any time to let up and relax, as he has so much material to show; even a little above three hours seems to be so short a time to convey all this! Blink, and you shall miss some important parts of the investigation by Garrison and team.
These investigations then converge at one of the most powerful climaxes in film, in the final Clay Shaw trial of 1969. It is in this trial that Garrison presents to the court and the public what he feels about the whole case. It is here that we are shown the infamous Zapruder film in all its gory detail and we are also presented with Garrison's interesting take on the "magic bullet" theory.
On the film-making front, JFK gets an absolute A+, there is no question about it. Stone's direction is flawless, the screenplay is spellbinding, John Williams' original music is mesmerizing and there are some superb performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. Kevin Costner carries the film well on his shoulders, especially in the riveting final trial scene, where they say he actually got overcome by emotion during his long speech. Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Garrison does well, balancing between an obsessed husband and a house full of kids. Donald Sutherland makes a brief but important appearance in one of the pivotal scenes; so does Jack Lemmon.
Where Stone disappoints, however, is in taking some liberties in twisting some facts and even creating some fictional characters who provide some of the strongest testimony in the case! This refers in particular to the character of Willie O'Keefe played by Kevin Bacon who is apparently a composite character created for the film. Such cinematic liberties are usually taken by filmmakers, but what Stone probably did not understand is that this is not just any ordinary story he is telling the world. It is one of the most shattering incidents that shocked America beyond all comprehension. It is unfair on Stone's part to cheat the audience like this, just to add more spice to the already disturbing material. People want to know the truth and not a fabrication of the truth. Not everyone actually goes and opens history books or reads the countless study material surrounding this important chapter of American history. So those who don't bother to do that, will rely on knowledge provided by this film, and that is where Stone would be doing great disservice to the people by presenting them with falsified material.
That aside, JFK is certainly an enthralling movie experience and undoubtedly one of the most important films ever made and shouldn't be missed by any true connoisseur of good cinema.