TV movie takes con­spir­acy-free ap­proach to events lead­ing up to Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion Umi Plays Chopin

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - By Brad Oswald

HALF a cen­tury af­ter the tragic events that oc­curred in Dal­las that fate­ful day, you might think all there is to say about the as­sas­si­na­tion of U.S. pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy has been said. One glimpse at this month’s TV list­ings would tell you that — at least, in the eyes of the peo­ple who pro­duce TV pro­grams — you couldn’t be more wrong. De­spite its be­ing the most an­a­lyzed, in­ves­ti­gated, de­bated, doubted and de­bunked crime in his­tory, the killing of JFK on Nov. 22, 1963, con­tin­ues to be a topic of end­less fas­ci­na­tion and/or frus­tra­tion for a large seg­ment of Amer­ica’s — and the world’s — pop­u­la­tion.

It’s no sur­prise, then, that the 50th an­niver­sary of the as­sas­si­na­tion has spawned a wave of tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries, spe­cial re­ports and drama­ti­za­tions fo­cused on var­i­ous as­pects of the JFK pres­i­dency and the shock­ing end to his life. Among the high­est pro­file of these pro­grams is Killing Kennedy, a new movie based on the like-ti­tled vol­ume by Fox News com­men­ta­tor and pro­lific book-writer Bill O’Reilly. The film rep­re­sents a rare foray into the scripted realm by the usu­ally doc­u­men­tary-fo­cused Na­tional Geo­graphic Chan­nel. De­spite O’Reilly’s hard-earned rep­u­ta­tion as a far-right-lean­ing po­lit­i­cal pit­bull, and the fact Kennedy was a lib­eral-minded Demo­crat, the movie turns out to be a rather straight­for­ward ex­am­i­na­tion of the lives of JFK and his as­sas­sin, Lee Har­vey Oswald, in the three-plus years lead­ing up to the shoot­ing in Dealey Plaza. Rob Lowe por­trays JFK, with Gin­nifer Good­win at his side as Jac­que­line Kennedy; Will Roth­haar plays Oswald, and Michelle Trachtenberg co-stars as his Rus­sian-born wife, Ma­rina. Lowe, for his part, is fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of dozens of ac­tors who’ve taken on the role of the iconic and eter­nally mourned pres­i­dent. Roth­haar, on the other hand, is tasked with prob­a­bly the most in-depth and nu­anced por­trait of Oswald that has ever been pre­sented in scripted form. “The Kennedys are sort of our roy­als,” Lowe said last sum­mer dur­ing NatGeo’s por­tion of the U.S. net­works’ semi-an­nual press tour in Los An­ge­les. “And if you be­lieve that con­cept, then it’s like play­ing a char­ac­ter from Shake­speare. Ac­tors play Ham­let all the time — there could be 17 ac­tors, you know, on 17 stages on any given day play­ing that char­ac­ter. And a lot of peo­ple will play JFK in the fu­ture, (be­cause) it’s just one of our great Amer­i­can icons. “But in terms of how you look at it, you just try to fig­ure what can you in­di­vid­u­ally bring, and for me, it was very much about cap­tur­ing him as a man. We all know the iconog­ra­phy of Kennedy: I was re­ally in­ter­ested in the de­tails of what he was like as a fa­ther, as a brother, as a son, as a hus­band, as a flawed, com­pli­cated and heroic guy, and where those small de­tails live.” Killing Kennedy opens on Nov. 22, 1963, and fol­lows Oswald as he leaves a house in subur­ban Dal­las, blan­ket-wrapped ri­fle in hand (he tells the co-worker who’s giv­ing him a ride that the bun­dle is “cur­tain rods”), and heads down­town to work at the Dal­las School Book De­pos­i­tory. Once there, he pro­ceeds to the in­fa­mous sixth-floor win­dow, builds a small shel­ter­ing wall out of text­book boxes, waits for the pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade to pass be­low and pulls the trig­ger. And at that mo­ment, the drama flashes back to Moscow, four years ear­lier, as 20-year-old ex-ma­rine Oswald ven­tures into the U.S. em­bassy, de­clares him­self a Marx­ist and an­nounces that he’s re­nounc­ing his Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship. The ac­tion shifts to U.S. soil, a short time later, as Kennedy is pre­par­ing to an­nounce his can­di­dacy for the pres­i­dency. And from there, Killing Kennedy takes a dual-chronol­ogy ap­proach as it re­counts the very dif­fer­ent sto­ries of two men whose paths would in­ter­sect in Dal­las. There’s a lot of per­sonal de­tail about each of­fered up in Killing Kennedy, but the larger world events of the era — the Bay of Pigs fi­asco, the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, the civil rights move­ment — are given only fleet­ing at­ten­tion. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, it’s Oswald’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, rather than Kennedy’s, that re­ceives the most in­tense nar­ra­tive fo­cus; his dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Amer­ica’s cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and re­sult­ing sym­pa­thy for Com­mu­nist/Marx­ist causes, in­clud­ing the Cuban rev­o­lu­tion, are pre­sented as the mo­tives for his lone-gun­man at­tack on the pres­i­den­tial mo­tor­cade. There are no labyrinthian po­lit­i­cal ra­tio­nales or multi-lay­ered con­spir­acy the­o­ries of­fered here. Killing Kennedy presents ev­ery­one in­volved as straight­for­ward and rel­a­tively sin­gle-minded. If there’s a ma­jor fail­ing in this drama­ti­za­tion, it’s the fail­ure to con­sider the big­ger is­sues that may have played a part in events sur­round­ing the JFK as­sas­si­na­tion. De­spite that, how­ever, it’s a rea­son­ably com­pelling re-ex­am­i­na­tion of per­haps the most oft-told tale in con­tem­po­rary his­tory. If you be­lieve there’s more to the JFK as­sas­si­na­tion than a sim­ple, con­spir­acy-free ex­pla­na­tion, you might find Killing Kennedy a bit light­weight. But if that’s the case, fear not — there’s no short­age of other pro­grams this month that delve deeper into more com­plex and con­found­ing the­o­ries of what hap­pened on Nov. 22, 1963, and why.

(Fri­day, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m., NBC)

Sun­day at 7 p.m. Na­tional Geo­graphic Chan­nel


Rob Lowe (right and above right) as pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy.

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