Judge Gordon Sullivan has a theory that the Kennedy assassination was just a movie plot.
The event that shocked the world…revealed in a new light.
I've seen my share of conspiracy theories out there when it comes the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps the only thing I've seen them agree on is that JFK was in fact shot in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Maybe there are a few "he faked his own death" diehards out there, but for the most part everyone agrees that JFK died in that motorcade. Beyond that, however, there are as many theories as to the hows and the whys as there are steers in Texas. Heaven knows why Bill O'Reilly decided to make the much-talked about death of JFK into one of his best-selling books, but the result is Killing Kennedy. Unsurprisingly, the book has been adapted into a television film that manages to do both too much and too little at the same time.
Facts of the Case
John F. Kennedy (Rob Lowe, Parks and Recreation) is a popular president, but on a fateful day in Dallas, his life intersects with that of former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar, Hearts in Atlantis). By telling their stories in parallel, Killing Kennedy showcases the presidency of Kennedy alongside Oswald's increasing disillusionment with the government he had served. Sadly, we all know the outcome.
There's nothing inherently wrong with telling the story of Kennedy or his assassination. James Ellroy has used it as a backdrop for some wonderful fiction, and Oliver Stone's JFK, however preposterous the theory or not, is an engrossing watch. What unites those excellent uses of the JFK mythos, however, is the fact that they're doing something new and/or unorthodox with the material. Ellroy focuses on the CIA-Cuba connection, while Stone takes on Jim Garrison's mad quest to bring the conspiracy to light. Killing Kennedy, however, never departs from the most basic kind of stories that most U.S. citizens get through osmosis. If you've seen a single PBS-style documentary on the Kennedy assassination, then you've got the outline of Killing Kennedy down pat.
Though I hate to keep referring to Oliver Stone, when faced with a political figure of titanic familiarity to the average viewer, the only real alternative is the strategy of Nixon: give the film room to dig into the characters. Though the three hours of Nixon sometimes feels excessive, the fact that we stay with the title character so long gives us a sense of him as a human in a way that no potted biographical documentary could hope to achieve. Killing Kennedy doesn't go down that route either, despite being made for TV, where a miniseries covering the Kennedy presidency might seem a natural fit.
Viewers are left with the worst of both worlds. Killing Kennedy tells a story we're all pretty familiar with, leading to very little drama, while simultaneously being too short to delve into enough details to make the characters feel alive. Even big things, like Kennedy's penchant for sleeping around, have to be remarked on briefly in dialogue.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I actually like the idea of pairing Oswald and Kennedy in a biopic. The similarities (military service, for instance) are as interesting as the differences (family wealth), and pairing them up before their eventual "meeting" makes a certain amount of dramatic sense. By putting two fine actors in the roles the film at least acknowledges that Oswald was a human being just as much as Kennedy, unlike many biopics that make JFK out to be a saint.
Surprisingly, Killing Kennedy attracted a host of excellent actors. I've grown used to seeing Rob Lowe as the weirdo actor doing a Brad Pitt knockoff on Californication, but he commits here. The hair, the voice, and the movements are all down, but Lowe also manages to dig a little deeper and become more than a set of mannerisms. Rothhaar provides a moody Oswald who has to hold up under some goofy lines about his importance to history, but he too skillfully avoids the dangers of mannerism. The real surprises, though, are Gennifer Godwin as Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Trachtenberg as Marina Oswald. Since the film focuses on their husbands, it would have been all too easy to get subpar actresses to just look good for the scenes they needed to be in. Killing Kennedy instead offers these excellent actresses, who turn in fine performances.
Killing Kennedy (Blu-ray) is also solid. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is generally sharp, with strong colors that convey the historical setting well. It never has that "pop" that the best hi-def presentations do, but for a TV film it looks fine. Black levels stay fine, and there are no significant compression artifacts to speak of. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is a bit of overkill, but on par with the visual elements. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, with the surrounds used for a bit of music and ambient sound.
Extras kick off with a 20-minute making-of that features footage from the film and interviews with the cast and crew. A short interview with Bill O'Reilly is next, but that's best skipped by anyone who isn't already a fan. Another short piece features talks with the cast about the Kennedy legacy, and we also get a Virginia tourism advertisement. Finally, Killing Kennedy (Blu-ray) includes both the broadcast and "extended" versions, which differ by about two minutes of not-terribly significant material. An Ultraviolet digital copy is also included.
Killing Kennedy feels a bit like a cash grab based on the popularity of the Bill O'Reilly book of the same name. The results are fairly pedestrian, with no new facts or theories put forward about Kennedy, and not enough running time to spend too much detail on the facts most of us are familiar with. Surprisingly, the film is really well-acted. Fans of the actors involved will be those most likely to enjoy this particular offering. Those who need a barebones intro to the Kennedy assassination might enjoy this presentation, but the average viewer will find little new. Killing Kennedy (Blu-ray) itself is strong enough to make a rental easy to recommend for the interested.
Guilty of being generic.
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