JFK

Director: Oliver Stone

1991

I’ve been known to be a little bit of a conspiracy theory believer – sometimes just to wind up my mum who still staunchly believes that man landed on the moon – but there are a couple that I really believe and fascinate me (Kurt Cobain never committed suicide but don’t get me started on that!) and one of those is the assassination of the 35th President of America, John F. Kennedy. I’ve also been on a bit of a JFK fix at the moment, reading the Stephen King book 11.22.63, in preparation for watching the recent television programme of the same name. “Never a stranger to controversy, Oliver Stone followed up his powerful post-Vietnam movie, Born on the Fourth of July (1989) with a film that angered and amazed people in equal measure – his questioning, overwhelming, urgent conspiracy movie JFK.” (791, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

jfk-1991-picture-mov_202d5c37_b“Although many people have debated whether more than one person pulled the trigger that day, Stone went one further and committed some of the many theories to celluloid, and in doing so delivers a fascinating film that raises more questions than it answers.” (791) To say JFK had an impact on the american public is a bit on an understatement. The film and the questions it raised partly resulted in the creation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Those papers should be due for release next year – but whether they will be is anyone’s guess. JFK is a mammoth film with a 3 hour run time – and a run time that actually feels as long as it is – but every single moment is compelling. And it asks some very uncomfortable questions. There’s something about the Kennedy assassination that has never sat well with me – it just does not seem plausible that one man could have caused as much damage as he did, and I guess the subsequent assassination of Bobby Kennedy only added weight to the conspiracy theory in my opinion – I mean really why did both Kennedy’s need to be removed? What was it about them that was so threatening?

“Using documentary footage – including the infamous home movie shot by Abraham Zapruder – as well as flashbacks, reconstructions, quick editing, and a skillful use of words and music, Stone weaves many ideas and theories together using the huge mountain of evidence and witness testimony without ever confusing or hoodwinking his audience. We don’t get a result by the time the end credits roll three breathtaking hours later, but we do know – as if there was any doubt in our minds previously – that it was impossible for Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone.” (791) I went into JFK already questioning the official version of the truth. And the film that Stone pulled together just reinforced all of the questions I had about that supposed truth. He pulls together an extremely compelling and convincing film that while never providing a conclusive answer gives you more than enough evidence to begin forming your own opinions of that historic event. The more I watched the more it reinforced the absurdity of the theory of a single shooter.

“He would not succeed in getting us to care so completely about this search for the truth without a strong central performance from Costner, who holds your attention throughout the film despite the numerous heavyweight actors who stroll in and out playing small roles – from Tommy Lee Jones as suspect Clay Shaw to Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman (as Oswald), Donald Sutherland, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, and Sissy Spacek, all of whom are superb.” (791) The cast is immense – it’s a veritable who’s who of Hollywood and as Joanna Berry says the majority of them appear in small supporting roles. Costner is magnetic as Jim Garrison, a man who has become somewhat lost to history. Sure everyone knows Kennedy was assassinated but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that there was someone who looked into the official report of the version of events and publically questioned it, at great personal cost to himself. Now I’m not naive – I studied film and television studies – so I know that every director controls exactly what story they want the viewer to see through their choices in editing and therefore every single thing you watch has its own agenda behind it. Even if you think that the single bullet theory is the truth, JFK is a compelling watch and who knows you may even come out of it with a different view on such an iconic event that shocked the world to its core. I cannot recommend JFK strongly enough.

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Wall Street

Director: Oliver Stone

1987

“In an age of bombast, where the money men of the world’s financial sectors were the rising stars of a new form of capitalism, Oliver Stone was perfectly suited to direct a story about the rot at the core of a very big apple.” (744, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die)

Wall Street 1987It took me a couple of times watching Wall Street before I could begin to form an idea of what I wanted to write – and I’m still not entirely sure what it is I have to say about it, so bear with me if this post seems a bit haphazard. Wall Street is one of those films that has an instantly recognizable quote – “Greed is Good!” – that you feel you know even if you haven’t seen it as everyone knows the basic plot etc. which is probably why I took so long to get around to watching it.

It’s not a film I particularly enjoyed but then I don’t particularly enjoy watching films with either Michael Douglas or Charlie Sheen in and Wall Street obviously  has a double whammy. And than there is the subject matter – the corruption at the heart of the financial sector, fat cats getting fatter through illicit means. Not only do I not have any reference for that world – as Hayden Smith says “It reveals little of how this world works, but feeds us enough so as not to be confused.” (744) – but as everyone knows (unless they’ve been living under a rock for the last few years) we’re kind of in the midst of a tenuous financial situation pretty much world-wide. So yeah, watching a film about bankers using illicit means to ensure they get richer without the worry of blame should it all go wrong is not really my idea of fun given the current climate.

I find almost every single character in Wall Street abhorrent! The only character I have any sort of respect for is Martin Sheen’s – as Bud Fox’s long-suffering father. I do enjoy watching the interplay between Martin and Charlie Sheen in the same fictional relationship as their real life relationship. Carl Fox is the only person in the entire film who has a modicum of decency and more importantly retains it throughout the film. Bud even has a go at him about his morals and his views and yet that is ultimately what makes Carl the most likable character and the moral compass of the film.

Everyone else in the film has serious character flaws. Bud is weak, gullible and unhappy with his lot in life – the perfect target for the very unsavory Gordon Gecko. I mean yes he does come to his senses but it does little to redeem his character and both he, and the audience, isn’t given any time to really grasp the magnitude of his actions. Darien Taylor, played by Daryl Hannah, is shallow, superficial and has, like everyone else in this film and its world, questionable morals. This is most evident when once things start going downhill for Bud she abandons him as the money is almost certainly about to run out. She’s an awful role-model to women as she perpetuates the gold-digger image!

And then we come to Gordon Gecko – the awful spider at the centre of this web of deceit and lies manipulating not only the stock market but all the people around him too. Gordon Gecko is probably Michael Douglas’ most recognizable role. He is deplorable and only sees people for how they can be of use to him. He is a master at manipulating people but particularly Bud Fox. There isn’t anything that redeems Gecko in my eyes and he gets everything he deserves. 

While watching Wall Street I kept comparing it to The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese) and I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer Scorsese’s portrayal of banking in the boom of the 1980s. Indeed if I had to recommend just one financial film to a friend it would be The Wolf of Wall Street over Wall Street despite the latter being seen as on the great films of the 1980s. I think that is because there is a humor and levity to The Wolf of Wall Street that is missing from Wall Street.