Sony // 1992 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 12th, 2003
The man who shot the man who shot JFK was Ruby.
After Oliver Stone's take on the John F. Kennedy assassination in JFK, it was only a matter of time before we got the back story of Jack Ruby, the strip club owner who shot and killed Kennedy's supposed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. In director John Mackenzie's Ruby, we're given a mostly fictional inside look at what brought Jack Ruby (Danny Aiello, Do The Right Thing, Hudson Hawk) and Oswald together for their fateful meeting with destiny. Was Ruby a pawn for the CIA? Was he the set-up man for the mafia? Or maybe Ruby was just the owner of a local titty bar that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your point of view. Along the way we meet many figures (both real and fictional) that played a part in Ruby's life: a heart of gold stripper, Candy Cane (Sherilyn Fenn, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), whom Ruby befriends; Maxwell (Arliss Howard, Jurassic Park: The Lost World), a shady operative figure who may or may not be working for the CIA; mafia heavy Santos Alicante (Marc Lawrence, The Shipping News) who Jack helps get out of Cuba, as well as other historical characters from both sides of the law. At the heart of Ruby is Kennedy's assassination and Jack's final act of violence that would make him a hero, a criminal, and eventually a player in our century's most mythological conspiracy.
I don't know how to feel about Ruby. Before the end credits begin rolling, the filmmakers tells us that many of the characters and events are fictional -- so much so that one of the main characters (stripper Candy Cane) was entirely made up. Huh? Listen, I can buy a few narrative liberties as much as the next guy, but don't you think if you're going to make a movie based on real events to a very real tragedy you'd at least try to be somewhat accurate? Apparently, the makers of Ruby and I don't see eye to eye on this topic. What viewers do get is a story about a strip club owner who was (apparently) an overall a nice guy and who (apparently?) made bad choices. Or something like that. After watching Ruby I still don't have a clue who the guy was -- Ruby gives no (accurate) insight into why Ruby did what he did, or what kind of man he was. I take that back: it gives a little insight into Ruby's motives, but since the film's credibility is shot it's assumed the screenwriter was making it up as he went along.
Major nitpicking aside, Ruby is Danny Aiello's show -- he plays the title role with a bit more complexity than I an anticipated. His performance is complimented by Sherilyn Fenn's Candy Cane, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who gets caught up in Ruby's shady world as well as with President Kennedy (seen mostly in long shots and in archival footage on TV sets). The supporting players do what they can with their roles, but many are relegated to periphery characters that are never fully realized (Arliss Howard is excellent as Maxwell, but why aren't we given more information on him?). At 101 minutes, Ruby gets the dubious distinction of feeling like it's both too long and too short, all in one breath. The character of Ruby doesn't seem substantial enough to be made into a riveting film, and yet the subject matter of Kennedy's death is something so grand that there's not enough film in the world to hold the back stories. Sadly, Ruby is not that movie. In 1967, Jack Ruby died in prison, never divulging to the public why he killed Lee Harvey Oswald and what his part was in the JFK cover up. If he'd been around long enough to see Ruby, he may have felt the need to spilled the beans out of sheer annoyance. Like all the facts in Ruby, that will always remain a mystery.
Ruby is presented in a decent looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Ruby is now over a decade old and shows a few signs of age. There are a few instances where dirt and edge enhancement show up. They're not very intrusive, but for a film that was made in the 1990s it's still a bit annoying. Otherwise, this is a decent image that sports solid black levels and bright, bold colors (check out the pink on Ms. Kennedy's jumpsuit!). This isn't a reference quality print, but hey, did you need Ruby to look as good as Lord of the Rings? The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. Don't expect much from this mix and you won't be disappointed -- the bulk of this soundtrack is focused solely in the front and side speakers. Directional effects and surround sounds are at a minimal. The dialogue, effects, and John Scott's music score are clear. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English.
Seeing as Ruby is one of Columbia's less popular catalog titles, it's no surprise to find this disc void of any substantial extra features, save for a few theatrical trailers for various Columbia TriStar mob flicks.
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers
* The John F. Kennedy Assassination Homepage
* The Warren Report
* Who Was Jack Ruby?