As we witnessed last week, the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, America has never fully recovered from the loss of the beloved young president. His public and violent assassination left an indelible imprint on the American psyche, shattering an age of optimism and halting his promise of progress. Having never received a satisfactory answer for the whos, whats and whys of the crime conspiracy theorists have argued their versions of the truth for decades. With JFK, Oliver Stone’s most controversial and arguably best film, Stone presents a massive catalogue of those theories with a masterful hand. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the president’s death, Stone and Warner Brothers put together an impressive commemorative edition of the film. Hit the jump to find out how JFK holds up and what the new edition has to offer fans of the film.
Despite appearances JFK is not a film about who killed Kennedy. JFK is a film about the obsession that comes out of trying to answer that question, about the frustration and anger of a people who lost such a promising leader and who never received satisfactory justice for his murder. It is a film about the labyrinthine path one must take in search of the truth, only to find more and more questions. Stone’s hero, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), is on a manic hunt for answers. Through Stone’s lenses Garrison is a plucky do-gooder straight from a Capra film, seeking truth in a web of lies and redemption for a nation tarnished by insidious covert affairs. In the end, what makes sense to Garrison is an elaborate conspiracy theory that involves the CIA, the FBI, the military industrial complex, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the mafia, all of whom were directly involved in either the assassination or the cover-up, and who wanted Kennedy dead for his “weak” foreign policy.
Oliver Stone lives and breathes at the intersection of history and controversy. I have no grounds to say whether JFK is a success as a historical documentation. Neither am I interested in arguing the accuracy of Stone’s narrative. That narrative has been contentiously debated in the two decades since the film’s release to no avail. We still don’t know for sure who assassinated Kennedy, and it certainly seems at this point that we never will. What I do know is that as a film, as a taut political thriller, JFK is a resounding success and a premiere example of filmic craftsmanship. Indeed, JFK was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, and went on to win for editing and cinematography. From Stone’s confident direction, to the innovative, somewhat chaotic editing style, to the pitch perfect costuming and set decoration, every technical element is on point.
Perhaps most impressive is that Stone manages to keep audience’s attention through three and a half hours, the bulk of which is expository. Unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Titanic, and most successful contemporary films that clock in at over three hours, Stone does not have sweeping romance and fantastical spectacle to keep the audience engaged. Rather, he does so with clever editing, using reenactments of the stories being told, cutting between the perspectives of multiple characters. He does so with exciting visual representations that bounce between color, black and white, and just about every visual medium at his disposal. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the massive menagerie of characters are portrayed by a roster of recognizable faces that give delightfully flamboyant performances. Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, and John Candy all deliver stand out performances in a cast stacked with stars. All told, it’s an expertly made film.
But if you’re thinking about dropping $50.00 on a commemorative set you probably don’t need me to tell you it’s a good movie. The real star of this edition is the wealth of special features it contains. The commemorative set includes a Blu-ray of the director’s cut. The three-and-a-half hour cut has seventeen minutes of footage not seen in theaters and is widely regarded as the definitive version of the film. Also on that Blu-ray is a commentary by Stone, deleted/extended scenes, an alternate ending, and the documentary Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy. In addition the set includes three other documentaries; the remastered John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightening, Days of Drums, written and directed by Bruce Herschensohn, the brand-new JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later from filmmaker Robert Kline, and JFK: To the Brink, an hour long chapter from Stone’s Showtime Documentary series The Untold History of the United States. The set also includes PT 109, the film dramatization of Kennedy’s experiences as a skipper in WWII starring Cliff Robertson. Finally the box is stuffed with special collectables, including a reproduction campaign poster, a reproduction of Kennedy’s inaugural address, a 32-page quotation book, a 44-page JFK movie photo book, 6 character cards, and 20 photos and 17 pieces of correspondence reproduced from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Whether you share Stone’s fascination with Kennedy’s presidency and assassination, are a big fan of the film, or perhaps just enjoy owning the best collector’s editions on the market, this commemorative set totally delivers.