In his new documentary, Oliver Stone leads viewers on a journey that will contain exactly two phenomenons: moments of genuine shock, and moments of confusion. The shock will make you feel as though you are a more qualified surgeon/detective than anyone alive in 1963. The confusion will bring you back to earth and leave you with more questions than answers.
Oliver Stone returns to the case that he famously opened up to the world when he made JFK in 1991. The film revealed the improbable results of the investigation into the infamous assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy. The Warren Report, which was set up by Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson in the aftermath of the assassination, was viewed as distorted and too simplistic in assessing the incident. Outcry followed as portions of the report were sealed until 2039 under government policy.
Stone’s 1991 film deconstructs the results and makes a case for some form of conspiracy. It ends with a rallying cry to viewers to ensure that the truth prevails. Kevin Costner’s character breaks the fourth wall and stares into the camera: “It’s up to you.” Now, in 2021, the majority of the Warren Report has been declassified and Oliver Stone has some thoughts.
JFK Revisited begins with a montage of broadcast footage from the day of the assassination. These are events that everyone knows some aspect of, but to see it all occur in chronological order is powerful stuff. Elements of doubt are spliced in with civilians giving their eyewitness testimony that contradicts that of the official record. Stone isn’t making this documentary for viewers to leisurely encounter. He inserts himself to the front and centre of the proceedings by narrating, as well as appearing at the infamous site in Dallas. Stone presents this as the search for the truth and the chance to uncover what really happened on that day.
The documentary thrusts you directly into the murky waters of the details that never quite made sense. The “magic bullet” takes up a sizeable chunk of the documentary’s run-time and it is quite the story. The idea that a bullet could somehow manage its trajectory while hitting its target(s) and still remain in terrific condition is an aspect of the investigation that even the most fervent of trustees in the United States government would pause at. The idea is baffling in itself but when Stone brings up the chain of evidence for said bullet, things take a turn. The impact appeals to the morbid fascination within us where we almost want to prove that something wasn’t right from the get-go. It is something that sustains the idea of a conspiracy in the first place. We want to uncover a nugget of doubt, even when there isn’t one.
Where JFK Revisited can veer off the path is in its treatment of evidence that may be nothing more than circumstantial. On the one hand, you have compelling evidence that Kennedy’s autopsy may have been stymied by unknown forces – something that serves to appeal to that morbid side. However, on the other you have the testimony of two people who didn’t see Lee Harvey Oswald when the official timeline dictates that they should have… not exactly press-stopping potential here. This circumstantial evidence is interesting, but doesn’t have the same impact as autopsy photos that look completely wrong. You have a ballistics expert that claims that the “magic bullet” could not have been possible. But this is then accompanied by Stone positing that the gun that was used by Oswald, was not the gun that he ordered by mail. Just as compelling evidence strikes the viewer, they are met with incidents like this.
JFK Revisited has a lot to say. The idea of a director returning to a story to fill in the gaps as some form of prologue does sound appealing. Stone made a film about an infamous event and broke it down for the masses to inhale and digest. The public interest in the case has skyrocketed since JFK was released. People finally understood the allegations and theories on a broader level.
However, this documentary can sometimes fail to understand the very nature of itself. JFK Revisited will provide a nourishing sense of morbid appeal to those who seek it. But it comes across as more of an excuse for Stone to clap back at people who had issues with the original film. Not only that, but much of the second-half consists of Stone trying to connect the assassination with an enormous conspiracy that involves more people than you can imagine. If you stole a pen in your youth, there is a very good chance that you are on Stone’s list.
The deification of Kennedy was always guaranteed given his tragic ending. There is a huge case to be made for some form of cover-up/conspiracy to have taken place. When JFK: Revisited works, it furthers this by providing moments of genuine interest. But it is dampened by the presence of circumstantial happenings and wild connections. When you find the smoking gun, there is little need to ask the person who mined the materials needed for the bullets if they have anything to say. Had Stone concentrated on the newly established facts (which was the entire point of the documentary in the first place), then this would have been something else entirely.