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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Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg

2012

“The Washington of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a world of collusion, compromise, and self-interest. The political sparring is brutal, with the lower chamber of Congress resembling a gladiatorial ring where legends are forged and vacillation can destroy a career.” (929, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I can’t help but think Ian Hayden Smith waxes lyrical about Lincoln – and overly so at that. I don’t agree with much of what he says. It’s a long and somewhat boring portrayal of a pivotal time in history.

Lincoln“Daniel-Day Lewis is astonishing as the sixteenth President of the United States. Like Oskar Schindler in Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama, we first see him from behind, hearing his voice before seeing his face. By the time we see him in close-up any trace of Daniel Day-Lewis is gone.” (929) I’m not a fan of Daniel-Day Lewis and that could have … what am I saying? It does have … a lot of do with why I find Lincoln to be one of the most boring, turgid and pointless films Spielberg has ever made. And I have a real bone to pick with Hayden Smith’s statement that by the time we see Lincoln all trace of Day Lewis has been removed. Mainly because it’s still recognizably the actor but more to the point we only ever saw still footage of Lincoln as he was assassinated before moving pictures came to be. So to say he has the characteristics of the 16th President is basically a fallacy – what we have is an actor impersonating other filmic examples of one of the most famous men in American history. Who knows what he was really like and how he moved? It’s all an interpretation. And yes while I know that all performance (and not just those on film) are just interpretations I think the thing I have an issue with is that Hayden Smith is lauding Day Lewis’ performance as being true to the person, and there is just no way that we could possibly know if that was true or not.

“The impact of one term in office and the grueling toll of a drawn-out civil war is visible in his face and physique, but when countering opposition to his plans he erupts with passion and fire.” (929) There is no denying that Lincoln made a huge impact on the landscape of American history in a very short space of time – there is a reason he is still one of the most recognizable Presidents so long after his tenure (and not just because he is now intrinsically linked to John Wilkes Booth, due to his assassination!) It’s actually a pretty interesting time in American history and yet it is still somehow a bit of a snooze-fest of a film unfortunately. The thing that interested me the most was the fight for the abolition of slavery taking place against the backdrop of the civil war raging at the same time.

And then on top of that you have all the interpersonal dramas taking place, which lend the film a much more human feel. You see the struggle of Mrs Lincoln to come to terms with the deaths and tragedies that have hit her family while at the same time being a public figure thanks to the nature of her husband’s job. Sally Fields does a tremendous job as Mrs Lincoln. I love her and her performance is one of the few things I enjoyed about the film. It’s so raw and vulnerable, yet at the same time she has this core of strength in her that makes her the equal of her famous husband.  Joseph Gordon Levitt is the poor set-upon eldest son of the Lincoln’s, desperate to be doing his bit in the civil war and yet unable to due to the strings his father pulls in order to keep him from harm.

Tommy Lee Jones in LincolnTommy Lee Jones is memorable – and not just for his laughably atrocious wig – but more for his usual grouchy self. He doesn’t hold any punches with his views and opinions and is one of the fiercest supporters of the bill for the abolition of slavery. The reason being is shown in a very touching moment towards the end of the film following the successful passing of the bill. The film concludes, just as it was starting to get interesting for me, with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln although you do get to see some of the emotional fallout from that event before the end credits roll.

“[…] Spielberg’s consummate drama is a reminder of why Abraham Lincoln is among the most revered figures in U.S. political history.” (929) I do agree that the film is a great reminder of why Lincoln is still remembered throughout, not just America, but the wider world too. And for something other than being the first President of the United States to be assassinated. Spielberg puts all of Lincoln’s achievements on display so that there is a record for the younger generations to embrace the man’s legacy. But for me, personally it was not a great film and is not one I will be revisiting – but by all means do not let that put you of watching Lincoln.

Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg

Nominated: Best Picture, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score, Sound Mixing

Lincoln Daniel Day LewisI am not a fan of Lincoln. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not American and do not have that sense of patriotism and love of Lincoln, or if it’s just the film itself, but I found it boring. I also think that attempt to create tension within the film doesn’t work because you know what the outcome of the film will be … everyone knows that Lincoln abolished slavery, ended the Civil War and was then assassinated, making the whole lead up to those events redundant.

I did like the way Spielberg approached the assassination. You see someone at the theatre and assume that you’re about to witness the first assassination of America’s president when in actuality you don’t. You just see the heart-breaking reaction of his youngest son when the news is broken on stage.

I found the film long and tedious but did appreciate a number of the performances. Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant as always despite looking ridiculous in his congressional wig. Sally Fields is lovely and has enormous strength as Mrs. Lincoln. The visual resemblance between Daniel Day Lewis and Abe Lincoln is remarkable and I suppose it’s a good performance but it just didn’t feel it.Sally Field Daniel Day Lewis Lincoln

For a film that revolves around abolishing slavery and equalizing rights for Blacks there are noticeably few black characters and certainly none of any substance. Indeed the few characters of colour we do see, Lincoln’s servants and Tommy Lee’s housewife come lover, have very light skin.

While I didn’t like the film I can see it doing well at the Oscars because if there is one thing that the Academy does well is congratulate itself. Although having said that I have given up trying to guess which way the Academy will go because they do like pulling random wins out of the bag (“It’s a hard life for a pimp” as Best Song?!)