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It's a Conspiracy, Daddy-O:
A Look Back at "JFK"

by Margaret T. Minnick

2/12/01

In anticipation of an upcoming trip to Dallas, I recently rented Oliver Stone's JFK. Originally released in 1991, the movie has actually weathered the last decade fairly well. Were it not for a cast populated with many currently dead people (John Candy, Walter Matthau) and people whose careers are currently on life support (Kevin Bacon, Sissy Spacek), a person could be convinced that JFK is a recent release.

Another dead giveaway of the age of the film is the appearance of Kevin Costner as an important actor in an important role. A relic of the early 90s, Costner has been trying to revive his career after the dismal failures of his two pet ego projects, Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997).

Both Waterworld and The Postman left me with the feeling that they could have been good if Costner had not had as much control. They are both post-apocolyptic stories (which just pulls at my heartstrings even though I don't really like Kev all that much), and The Postman is based on a David Brin book. Depite good premises and some good casting, both movies drag like a 1970s drama.

Anyway, back to JFK. Kevin Costner plays Jim Garrison, a New Orleans District Attorney who starts researching the Kennedy assasination in 1966, discovering many connections in his hometown. It's a three hour movie, but it's very entertaining and not quite as manipulative as I thought back when I saw it in theaters for the first time. This change of opinion, however, may be partially do to the recent election in this country and my subsequent lack of faith in my elected (and not-elected) officials.

The setting is all swampy and worn out New Orleans. Everyone is a little sweaty and droopy-eyed, but the women's hair holds up remarkably well. Laurie Metcalf (Jackie on Roseanne) is excellent as Assistant District Attorney Susie Cox. She has 3 different hairdos, calls Kevin "Boss" and never has any "woman in a man's world" moments despite being the only woman on the DA's staff in 1966.

Unfortunately, Garrison is burdened by a super-whiny wife, Sissy Spacek, who only has one hairdo during the entire movie (and this movie covers about 3 years!) and seems completely overwhelmed when her husband can't come to Easter dinner. There is also some very bad child acting. Oliver Stone would have done well to re-write Garrison's personal life and make him a bachelor.

JFK is a star-studded show. Ed Asner and Jack Lemmon show up in small parts, as do the aforementioned late Walter Matthau and John Candy. John Candy stands out particularly as a local society type who talks in surprisingly convincing 60s-speak:

"Is this off the record Daddy-O? Good. In that case, let me sum it up for you real quick. If I answer that question you keep asking, if I give you the name of the big enchilada, you know ... then it's bon voyage Dino. I mean like permanent. I mean like a bullet in my head, you dig? You're a mouse fighting a gorilla. Kennedy is dead as that crab meat. The government's still breathing and you wanna line up with a dead man?"

For the first time since seeing West Side Story, I am actually now convinced that cool people might have once said "Daddy-O."

There are also some now well-known actors in small roles, such as Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld) and Vincent D'Onofrio (The Cell). One of the real joys of watching older movies is seeing now-famous actors in small roles, and JFK is full of that.

All in all, this is a pretty good slice of early 90s filmmaking crossed with a healthy and fun dose of conspiracy theory. It's coming out on DVD soon, too, so switching tapes won't be necessary. Ah, progress ...


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Kevin Costner as a very important actor.


John "Daddy-O" Candy

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