‘JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass’ is a dense and detailed return to the conspiracy 30 years after Oliver Stone’s masterpiece [Cannes Review]
In the 30 years since JFK made global headlines for its excoriation of the military-industrial complex – and garnered eight Oscar nominations for its trouble – Oliver Stone hasn’t surrendered an inch. The filmmaker behind Platoon and Nixon says in his new film JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass that the “conspiracy theories” which first fed unconventional thinking on Kennedy’s 1963 assassination have become “conspiracy facts.”
To a large degree, Stone is right. The Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) set up in 1992 amid a flurry of renewed interest in the assassination has steadily published previously classified documents which give more credence to the notion Kennedy may have been executed by the CIA as part of an effort to expand America’s military interventions abroad. That rationale is a crucial aspect of Stone’s original film: that the Kennedy brothers were the first White House occupants since World War Two to sincerely oppose American interventionism, and haven’t been matched since, is the strongest argument existing that the defence establishment acted to replace Kennedy with the more battle-ready Lyndon B. Johnson. Shortly after Kennedy was killed, the US vastly expanded its phony case for a full-scale invasion of Vietnam. The rest is history.
JFK Revisited was made and released not to mark any specific new findings by the Review Board or anybody else, but rather to take stock of the assassination’s historiography in the three decades since Stone’s film broke the case wide open. There’s some unnecessary relitigating over the whitewash Warren Report, which found no plot to kill the president while wilfully ignoring key evidence tying Lee Harvey Oswald and his own assassin, Jack Ruby, to the CIA. That ex-CIA director Allen Dulles was a key member of the Warren Report is a clear enough sign of a cover-up. But this was all dealt with in the feature film JFK itself, so Stone spending time pointing this out once again feels like a waste of time. JFK Revisited clocks in at under two hours, although the director has said a four-hour version also exists. With plenty of detail not only about the assassination but Kennedy’s murky autopsy and previous plots to kill him in the weeks before November 22, it’s clear Stone and his producers have embarked on a thesis-sized deep dive back into the archives. For history buffs and conspiracists alike, it’s a joy. But for the less easily persuadable, that level of detail could become a little tiresome.
The best moments in JFK Revisited are, frankly, Stone’s use of scenes from the original movie. Kevin Costner’s famous courtroom monologue about justice as an “individual act” rather than a pre-existing apparatus has aged fantastically well. Nods are made to the Trump administration and even America’s new frontier on civil rights. It all serves as a reminder to rewatch Stone’s original masterpiece, rather than go back into the library of assassination material.
After all, the assassination itself was never quite Stone’s main interest. The director’s original film targets the shadowy defence establishment’s ability to conduct illegal covert operations, and kill the president if it wanted to, as much as point the finger to a specific plot. JFK Revisited is much the same, lambasting the CIA and FBI’s intellectual laziness toward essential classified material as much as alleging the involvement of Clay Shaw and the Cuban campaigners. It’s this rejection of American policymaking in general which made JFK so iconoclastic. It’s encouraging to see Stone hasn’t left it behind. The sound perspective of Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison is also missing, with Stone’s own investigative angle taking precedent. That reflects a desire to return to the assassination as a widely accepted plot, rather than persuade Americans anything suspicious happened at all, as JFK sets out to do. This gives JFK Revisited the impression of an ideological victory lap – and a somewhat deserved one, too. As the late Donald Rumsfeld might say, there are still many unknown unknowns about the JFK assassination. Oliver Stone still has an appetite to find them.
This review is from the 74th Cannes Film Festival.