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JFK: SPECIAL EDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 205 Minutes
Release Date: February 6, 2001

Film ****

“I say let justice be done, though the heavens fall!”

Oliver Stone does something undeniably unique with his movies. He gives you his analysis or opinion on an event, current or historical, which makes you ponder the possibility if something could or, did, happen. Of all of Stone’s films, which includes a list of great, monumental pieces of work, JFK, for me, truly stands out as the director’s ultimate masterpiece. How many filmmakers have ever created films that cause you to consider the possibility that a certain moment in American history didn’t happen the way you thought it did, even though the history books and news reports state that it is over and done? Like many of Stone’s films, JFK was swirling with intense controversy even weeks before the movie was released. Historians blasted the film’s incredible accusations, as well as the conspiracy theories created not only by Stone, but the central character of the movie, the late Jim Garrison. Stone’s vision of a possible conspiracy behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is not intended as historically accurate piece, but a shocking possibility, and is to this day one of the greatest films ever made.

The film opens with a montage of events leading up to the tragic assassination, beginning with President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation. Various events from the Cuban missile crisis to the war in Vietnam to Kennedy’s soft take on communism are all covered, leading up to Kennedy’s arrival in Dallas Texas on November 22nd, 1963. Then the fateful shots ring out, and the world is stunned. Especially stunned is New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, played fantastically by Kevin Costner in what I find to be his greatest performance to date. Then Garrison, having doubts about the sole involvement of Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), conducts an investigation of his own. His first reason for investigating is the fact that some previous acquaintances of Oswald’s have resided in New Orleans.

All of this leads to the questioning of several suspected conspirators, including David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), Oswald’s alleged get-away man, and respected businessman Clay Shaw, played by Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar nominated performance that is nothing short of remarkable. Shaw shortly becomes the key suspect, with Garrison strongly believing him to be employed by the CIA, as well as anti-Castro, but Shaw frequently denied having ever been in the agency. Other big-named stars pop up in key roles, such as Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, Ed Asner, Walter Matthau, and John Candy. The biggest supporting cameo is that of Donald Sutherland, known simply as Mr. X, who, in a truly stunning portion of the film, meets up with Garrison in Washington to reveal to him the possibility behind the murder of Kennedy.

Even if JFK is historically inaccurate, the grip of the film can never be denied. At nearly three and a half hours, the film zips by you faster than a speeding bullet with its ingenious ideas, theories, interrogations, and above all else, the high-quality level of filmmaking that it represents.  The writing, photography, editing, musical score, and directing are all of the highest caliber, that it makes you wonder how Stone gets any sleep while making a movie.

The result is a riveting and important motion picture. Anyone and everyone should see the film, as far as I’m concerned. Those who feel they have been denied a level of information regarding this tragic event should not hesitate at all to experience this gripping masterpiece from one of our most groundbreaking directors.

Video ****

Truly outstanding, considering that the previous DVD release of this movie was released in a disappointing, double sided transfer, which claimed to be anamorphically enhanced, but it wasn’t. Now, thanks to newly released Oliver Stone Collection, Warners made a smart decision to give the movie the appropriate enhanced look, and the result is a glorious one, and perhaps the best transfer of any of Oliver Stone’s films. Colors are completely vibrant, and the picture is consistently sharp and clear, even in the black and white sequences. A rare case of a great movie given a second chance on DVD.

Audio ****

I’ve come to realize that just about all of Oliver Stone’s movies are given the perfect audio touch when released on DVD. Any Given Sunday, The Doors, and Natural Born Killers are terrific examples, and now JFK is another title that can be added to the list. Again, this is a step up from the previous DVD release, which contained only a Dolby Surround track. This edition has been given a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and I noticed a huge difference in audio quality. Everything is captured in digitalized perfection, including musical score, background noises, gunshots, and other various sounds.

Features ***1/2

Before I finally found a copy of this in the store, I had no idea that this was a 2-disc set. If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think Warner has ever issued a 2-disc set for any of their movies. Nonetheless, this is a winning start. Featured on disc 1 is the feature film, and a full-length commentary by Oliver Stone. Disc 2 includes a never ending compilation of deleted and extended scenes, some multimedia essays, the trailer for the movie, and some DVD-Rom content. Very impressive.

Summary:

JFK is indeed a landmark movie in a history of landmark movies. A rare film that creates countless possibilities as to what really went took place behind the assassination. Thought provoking moviemaking at its grandest.