JFK (Director’s Cut Two-Disc Special Edition)
December 6, 2001
Starring: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Donald Sutherland, Beata Pozniak, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Sissy Spacek, Brian Doyle-Murray, Gary Grubbs, Wayne Knight, Jo Anderson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Walter Matthau, ,
They say that the third time’s the charm and this certainly applies to the latest DVD version of Oliver Stone’s film, JFK (1991). Previous incarnations included a movie-only edition spread over two sides of a single disc and an extras-packed two DVD set, part of the Oliver Stone Collection that came out a few years ago. What’s new on this one? Aside from all the extras from the last version, only a feature-length documentary and that’s it.
JFK presents the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a powerful event constructed by its conspirators to create confusion with its contradictory evidence and then theorizes that the evidence was buried deep in the Warren Commission report. Stone’s film filters a structured examination of the conspiracy from one person’s point of view—Jim Garrison (Costner)—who then assembles all of the evidence at his disposal to reveal a larger, more frightening picture that implicates the most powerful people in the U.S. government.
The film depicts the events leading up to and after the assassination as a densely constructed story complete with jump cuts, multiple perspectives, a variety of film stocks and the blending of actual archival footage with staged scenes dramatized by a stellar cast of actors. This blurring of reality and fiction by mixing real footage with staged footage makes it difficult to discern what really happened and what is merely speculation. Stone does this in order to simulate the confusing quagmire of events as they are depicted in The Warren Commission Report.
The normally wooden Costner acts as the perfect mouthpiece for Stone’s theories. The auteur’s infamously forceful directorial approach to his actors pays off here as he reigns in Costner’s usual tics and mannerisms. Stone was no dummy—he knew that by populating his film with many famous faces, he could make the potentially bitter pill that was his film, that much more palatable to the mainstream movie-going public. The rest of the cast is phenomenal. Gary Oldman’s delivers an eerie portrayal of the enigmatic Lee Harvey Oswald. Tommy Lee Jones is note-perfect as the refined, self-confident businessman, Clay Shaw. Even minor roles are filled by such name actors as Vincent D’Onofrio, Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau.
Seeing JFK now, one is reminded that first and foremost, it is a top notch thriller. There are so many fantastic scenes of sheer exposition that would normally come across as dry and boring but are transformed into riveting scenes in the hands of this talented cast. For example, the famous scene between Garrison and X (Sutherland), where the mysterious man lays out all the reasons why Kennedy was killed and how, is not only a marvel of writing but also of acting as the veteran actor gets to deliver what is surely one of the best monologues ever committed to film.
JFK features a protagonist who exposes the conspiracy to be an intricately constructed coup d’état. Stone paints his canvas with broad brushstrokes and powerful images in order slam home his theory. His film was so daring for its time because he was willing to let it all hang out and take a confrontational stance by boldly implicating the government in the conspiracy and the mainstream media in complying to cover it up. Stone used the persuasive power of film to reach the largest number of people he could in order to wake them up and reveal how they have been deceived by higher powers.
Disc one features an audio commentary by director and co-screenwriter, Oliver Stone. He goes into detail about his theories on who killed Kennedy and explains the “facts” he used to support his thesis. For people not familiar with all the characters in this drama, Stone points out who everyone is and their role in the assassination. He also cites scenes where he took obvious dramatic license to prove a point. Stone admits that he doesn’t have all the answers—just clues and intuitions. It’s another candid commentary from Stone and a must-listen for fans of the filmmaker and the film.
All of the extras on the previous edition are included as is one new addition, a 90-minute documentary entitled, “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy.” It uses Stone’s film as a jumping off point in which to revisit the events of and surrounding the assassination and examine the cult of conspiracy theorists. There is some fantastic on the set footage of Stone in action and interviews with most of the star-studded cast. Detractors of the film (Walter Cronkite and a film critic from The New York Times) and its supporters (Robert MacNeil from the MacNeil/Lehr Report) are interviewed, providing an excellent snapshot of the controversy that swirled around the film at the time. This is an excellent, in-depth documentary that even includes interviews with Marina Oswald and fascinating archival footage of the real Oswald, including his infamous death on live TV at the hands of Jack Ruby.
There are also twelve deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Stone. Included is an interesting dream sequence with Oswald taking the stand at the film’s climatic trial. Gary Oldman delivers an intense monologue in this scene. There is also an alternate ending where Garrison meets X again. Some of the footage in their first meeting was used here when Stone decided not to use this ending. There is also footage that we didn’t see, which should be of great interest to Stone fans.
There is also a section entitled, “Multimedia Essays,” that contains two featurettes. “Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty,” is an interview with the man that Donald Sutherland’s X character was based on.
“Assassination Update—The New Documents” is a 30-minute look at the information that was released as a result of JFK. Legislation was passed a few years after the film to release all the records pertaining to the assassination and this featurette examines what was found in relation to the events depicted in the film.
For casual fans of the film who already own the Oliver Stone Collection version, buying this new one probably isn’t really worth it. For hardcore fans of JFK and Stone, the inclusion of this impressive documentary is worth the price of purchase of this new set. For completists, however, one glaring omission is AMC’s excellent episode of Backstory that was done on the making of the film. Perhaps this will be included on yet another future edition of this film. That being said, this is a solid two DVD set for a landmark film. JFK is essential viewing for any fan of cinema.