I’ve been fascinated by the labyrinth-like case of the assassination of American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy since December 20, 1991 when I attended an opening night premiere of director Oliver Stone’s JFK at a crowded theater in Syracuse, New York. Before heading into that nighttime showing, I knew the very basics of Kennedy’s death, most of it as taught me and my classmates in American History class: During a November 22, 1963 drive through downtown Dallas, Texas in a motorcade, the 35th president of the United States of America was gunned down by a lone assassin from the top floor of a book depository building. I’d heard rumblings and whispers from some family members that perhaps that wasn’t all of the story, but other than the official accounting of that sad event, I knew next to nothing about it being anything other than a nut-job who claimed the life of one of my countries better leaders. I knew nothing, as it turned out, and that became apparent as Stone’s documentary-like film – strung together in a dramatized version with actors Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci and Gary Oldman – unspooled in front of me. Suddenly, theories such as a shot coming at Kennedy from behind the Grassy Knoll, a cross-triangulation of fire by two (probably more) gunmen, possible Mafia ties and – extremely controversial at the time – government involvement in Kennedy’s death came barreling at me a hundred miles a minute. It was a transformative movie-going event for me, one that ultimately led me to delve even deeper into the subject via a plethora of literature that had already been written on the possibility that something was not adding up with the official version of the story as doled out to the masses by the Warren Committee.
In Stone’s new follow-up to his early 90s opus – JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass – the plunge into the unlikely becomes even more precipitous (and, chillingly, likely) as the master director and investigator peels back more layers of the Kennedy case, deftly exposing new information that has turned up in the nearly thirty years since JFK first made its controversial debut. It’s a taut high-wire act that Stone attempts in this new deep-dive and, for the most part, he succeeds in making his case for an actual conspiracy that was quickly covered up by the American government.
There are no actual Scooby-Doo reveals of precisely who the culprits were in the conspiracy to kill Kennedy, but that’s perhaps just as well. After all, as Donald Sutherland’s Deep Throat-like character from JFK reposted to Costner’s embattled New Orleans DA Jim Garrison: “That’s the real question, isn’t it? Why? The ‘How’ and the ‘Who’ is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia, keeps ‘em guessing like some kind of parlor game. Prevents ‘em from asking the most important question: Why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?…”
The rabbit hole that is the Kennedy assassination grows all the more confusing with Stone’s presentation of evidence that indicates the events that were in play and led to his murder in Dallas had already been set in motion months before and it was only happenstance and sheer luck that the president hadn’t been assassinated in Chicago or Tampa prior to November 22, ‘63, where very real proof has turned up indicating a cabal of killers were awaiting him in those two American cities under unnervingly similar conditions as the ones that finally felled him in Dealey Plaze. How similar are we talking here? Two men are pointed to by Stone and his band of investigators as being earlier prototypes to Lee Harvey Oswald, both seemingly placed by unknown powers in those two cities in buildings similar to the Texas School Book Depository along what was intended to be motorcade routes for a visiting president. The coincidences don’t stop there: The Chicago forerunner to Oswald was pinched by an anonymous call to the FBI from a man who gave his name as “Lee.” Watching this all-too brief segment, one thing does become quite clear indeed: For all intents and purposes, John F. Kennedy was a veritable “dead man walking.” His assassins – be they Mafia, government, Cuban exiles or whatever – were unerringly patient with their plot. Chicago didn’t work so the hunting ground for the president became Tampa. Tampa didn’t work out so it shifted to Dallas. If, by yet another miracle, Kennedy had escaped the Dallas plot, no doubt, the documentary implies, he would have met his violent and deadly fate the following week, or the month after, or even the month after that. His stalkers were patient; they were always going to kill this man.
If there is any fault at all in Stones’ JFK Revisited it’s this: An avalanche of new evidence is presented in this nearly two hour documentary, so much so that it feels that the director has done the material an inadvertent disservice by not giving the many plots and assorted characters more room to breathe and stretch. This is one of those rare and important studies that demanded an actual three to four part docuseries rather than its current compressed form. For example, brief mention is given to Lee Harvey Oswald and his whereabouts in the School Book Depository at the time of Kennedy’s killing. The Warren Commission always maintained that Oswald had fashioned a snipers nest in the top floor of the Depository where he murdered the president. Stone presents compelling new evidence in his work through witness testimony that Oswald was nowhere near that top floor, all but exonerating him from at least that aspect of the assassination. This alone is revelatory and groundbreaking stuff that deserved an entire one hour spotlight (ditto the failed assassination plots in Chicago and Tampa and Oswald’s possible role in subverting at least one of those attempts), an even deeper-dig that the limited runtime does not allow, alas. Stone has taken the docuseries route before, notably in the superlative The Untold History of the United States. It’s a pity that successful model could not have been applied to JFK Revisited: It would have transformed a good documentary into something much more remarkable and stunning, methinks.
All of the above said – and on the eve of the 58th anniversary of President Kennedy’s murder – this is one documentary that you owe yourself a viewing of. In an age where world leaders are still suppressing evidence from that tragic day (yep, looking at you here President Biden), it’s diligent researchers such as Oliver Stone who still have the courage and fortitude to question this black stain in our world’s history.
JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass can currently be seen on Showtime.