Oliver Stone’s Crackpot JFK Conspiracy Movie Is a Hilarious, Head-Spinning Mess
What Stone has concocted is like a YouTube conspiracy video made by somebody called “OStoneWatchThisNow4TruthReJFK.”
One of the many films playing in Cannes this year is a Romanian movie called Intregalde, in which three young workers traveling from Bucharest are led (literally) down the wrong path by an old man claiming he is taking them to a sawmill. The path eventually becomes a dirty track and their car sinks into a great big muddy bog, and finally two people turn up who inform them that the old man is demented and the sawmill has been out of operation for years.
Thoughts of Intregalde kept returning to this reviewer during the screening of JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass, the new Oliver Stone joint, which sees the veteran director, in a voice of utmost sententiousness, present reams of turgid documentary evidence to support his contention that JFK was… killed by… it’s unclear exactly, but anyway, the reason for the assassination is… never really given to us. But there was a big conspiracy! Look at this graph!
Stone is presenting this new film, made thirty years after his Kevin Costner-starring film JFK caused a big hoopla, as an explosive investigation into what really went down in 1963. Presenting the film in person in Cannes, Stone claimed that nothing less than the essence of democracy was at stake in establishing the true events around Kennedy’s killing. Yet what he has concocted reads more like a YouTube conspiracy video that might have been made by somebody called “OStoneWatchThisNow4TruthReJFK,” with abysmal PowerPoint-style graphics and talking head appearances by people who have certainly written books about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a subject which isn’t exactly lacking in crackpots.
The film begins in an orgy of bombast, with a hysterical score of churning strings thumping out a sound of utmost urgency, while the documentary recites at breakneck speed the core events of the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas. Already this introduction feels quite extraordinary in its tempo and breathless presentation, as Stone presents tearful faces reacting to the death, footage from the Zapruder tape, live reports from the day of Kennedy’s death, in a higgledy-piggledy mess. This is followed by purposely filmed footage of Stone himself wandering the streets of Dallas with a thoughtful expression, in the mode of an investigator who will get to the bottom of all this, and then a return to more hysteria, as the film outlines a few of the theories it will be examining. At this point the movie cuts to black and Stone intones: “Let’s begin.” You mean we hadn’t begun? What was all that sound and fury for, then?
As the documentary kicks into its subject proper, Stone returns to much of this footage, which makes that long introductory segment extraneous. The score is working hard again now, while Stone and his collaborators bury into their core assertion: that Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy essentially set up by the CIA. Some of the claims made at this point are valid—although they are hardly new—such as the idea that the one-bullet explanation for the murder does not hold water. Stone’s experts (some of whose names and credentials hover on the screen for a suspiciously brief time) show, with the aid of hilariously bad reconstruction footage in which scarlet-red bullet trajectories carve into grey animations of the bodies, how it was impossible for one magic bullet to have traversed Kennedy and then reached John Connally. Fair enough! But why?
Here, Stone and his acolytes seem on slightly less certain ground: there appears to be some sort of idea that Lyndon B. Johnson stood to profit from Kennedy’s death and had already set in motion the ramping up of the Vietnam war, which he would fully bring into effect when in power. But the film stops short of pointing the finger at him explicitly. Likewise Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, seems to be pointed at without the film ever fully throwing the book at him. The latter stages of the film, in which a conspiracy is broadly sketched out, would be wobbly enough without Oliver Stone making JFK out to be some sort of saint—but his soft-soaping of JFK’s management of the Bay of Pigs crisis is risible. Another sequence, where the film claims that Kennedy’s greatness is evident in the number of roads and statues and airports named after him around the world, with stills of each one succeeding each other in a flurry, is perfectly ludicrous.
In general, the movie’s attempts to connect the JFK assassination to a wider cause—such as when it seems to claim that Trumpism was set in motion by the failure of the USA to investigate the assassination properly—fall flat. The story is certainly important, but many years on it feels hard to agree that it is such a big story, when the world has seen breaches of democracy on an extraordinary scale in the last five years.
Stone’s film is finally sunk by its preposterous visuals, which are legitimately hilarious. Stone cannot name something without it being put up on screen as a visual aid—so, for instance, if he should mention the New York Times, you will be certain to see the famous Grey Lady script crop up on screen. At another point, when the director claims that the president aimed to shrink the CIA and break up the FBI, we see the CIA building literally reduced by two or three floors in computer-generated imagery, and the logo of the FBI broken into smithereens. Another hilarious graphic sees photos of witnesses and suspects going up and down in the Dallas sniper building, with red arrows accompanying thumbnail pictures of each on the outside of a floor plan. This genuinely feels like satire—Chris Morris, or Tim & Eric. It’s impossible not to laugh at this babyish filmmaking.
Oliver Stone means well, but a film of this sort would never be given the time of day by any other director. Perhaps he just needed to get it out of his system.