Scene in DC is our new series highlighting film and television shot in the District.
Long before he became a useful idiot for Putin and Chavez, iconoclast Boomer filmmaker Oliver Stone tapped into American anxiety over the mid-twentieth century. In films like Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July, Stone found through the anger and institutional blind spots that led to systemic corruption and indifference. His films are avowedly one-sided, hardly factual, and yet there is an emotional force behind them, making them feel more urgent than any report on 60 Minutes or whatever. No film exemplifies Stone’s technique better than JFK, his head-spinning, conspiratorial masterpiece.
Stone uses Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), former District Attorney for New Orleans, as an entry point into overwhelming circumstantial evidence, red herrings, and the nagging feeling that Kennedy’s assassination must have been a conspiracy. Most of it is horseshit, probably, but Stone expertly piles on one detail after another until you’re nodding alongside Garrison and his team. The film is nearly three and a half hours long, and Stone never wastes a second.
There are many memorable scenes, like when Garrison is in the book depository or explains his “magic bullet” theory, and yet none of them have the forcefulness of Garrison speaking with X (Donald Sutherland), an anonymous high-level functionary in the Department of Defense. Garrison and X meet on a bench in the National Mall, and Sutherland performs a fierce monologue of surprising power. They wander the Mall, with nonstop flashbacks to that fateful November day, and the pastoral comfort of the park juxtaposed with the high-contrast black and white flashbacks create an irresistible grim irony.
JFK does not use D.C especially well. Stone’s focus is too single-minded, and his film jumps around locales all over the country. But for about ten fascinating minutes, there is a bracing reminder that staggering venality regularly happens just under our noses.