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JFK: The Director's Cut

Warner Home Video

Starring Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Oldman

Written by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar
Directed by Oliver Stone

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

It doesn't pay to watch JFK as an historical document. It needs to be viewed as a Boy's Own Adventure, with Kevin Costner as a simple heroic figure out to slay dragons. If you get bogged down in what's true and what isn't true, you miss a moving, mythic account of what taking risks can cost a man in this society, and not appreciate director Oliver Stone's revolutionary visual and audio style.

As is well known, JFK is about New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's interpretation of the 1963 Kennedy assassination. Using Garrison's quest for information as the spine of the story, the film ranges widely over American political history since the postwar era. There is a set-up sequence that goes from history lecture to the actual Kennedy assassination, followed by Garrison (Kevin Costner) learning of the crime and following up on local connections. Four years later, Garrison has occasion to re-open his case, and a firestorm of controversy erupts around him. His research and interviews lead to the prosecution of Clay Shaw, a prominent businessman. In the film's terms, Garrison loses the case, but he wins the moral high ground. From the outside Garrison's case looks absurd; Stone takes it seriously, and attempts to lay down an alternative history of American since 1945.

Say what you will about the content, the form of JFK is outstanding. Stone's jackrabbit approach changed the way he made movies, and it was born of his grappling with the task of putting so much information and so many images into a small space. It's like a fireworks display; you're looking everywhere at once. Yet amazingly, it isn't hard to follow, even though one will discover new things about it with each subsequent viewing.

Re-released on DVD by Warner as part of their Oliver Stone Collection, the two-disc JFK: Director's Cut is a version of the movie with expanded supplement. There are two major additions to this set, the first an audio commentary by Stone on Disc One. As usual, he is informed, detail-oriented, expansive, and he gives a lot of background to some of the claims his film makes. He also shows a warm delight in Joe Pesci's performance. Disc Two includes two multi-media "essays." The first is "Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty," ten minutes of video chat from the person who formed the basis for the movie's "X" character. The other is the 29-minute video "Assassination Update: The New Documents" with author James DiEugenio. The most significant charge the author makes is that certain reporters smearing Garrison were really CIA assets. Most important is 54 minutes worth of deleted or expanded scenes, 12 in all (often dated 09-06-91 in the lower left hand corner of the frame). They come with Stone's optional commentary and are in 2.35:1. Among them are Ruby being "given" cancer while in prison; a longer scene with Dean Andrews; a short scene of Garrison at home with his wife; Garrison reading Newsweek in his office and complaining about the press just before meeting with a Colorado oilman who offers him a bribe; Dealy Plaza witness Jean Hill's extended scene; Ruby dancer Beverly Oliver's extended scene (played by Lolita Davidovich) ; Garrison in the Texas School Book Depository; Susie talking about Oswald at a restaurant meeting; Oswald leaving the Depository; Oswald's arrest at the movie theater; and most controversially, a sequence in which Oswald appears, from beyond the grave, at the Shaw trial, to testify to his innocence (it's an odd scene, and there was so much controversy surrounding the film already it's a good thing Stone took it out, although he expresses fondness for it in his commentary); and finally an alternative ending in which Garrison meets up with X again, where X gives him the big picture. Much of this material was contracted back into X's one earlier scene. It should be noted that all of these scenes are interesting.

Disc One of this single-sided, dual-layered set (the previous release was a flipper) offers a mostly pristine anamorphic transfer of the 2.35:1 image (although occasionally the transfer has a hard time with Garrison's seersucker suits). The box indicates that the soundtrack has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the previous disc was also in 5.1; this one has a French 5.1 audio track as well. Subtitles come in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, with closed-captioning in English. DVD-ROM features inlcude Web-links to various websites and the collected reviews of the film.

— D. K. Holm

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