JFK: Director's Cut
review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 205 minutes
Starring: Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders and Sissy Spacek
Screenplay by: Oliver
Stone & Zachary Sklar
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Studio: Warner Bros.
Retail Price: $26.99
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (88 Scenes)
Released: November 11th, 2003
Oliver Stone's "JFK" is one of the most memorable films in the past few years to polarize audiences. Despite the mountains of critical acclaim and several awards, and all of it's fans, there are those who downright hate this film with a passion. It's true that "JFK" is controversial due to its facts - you'll find a whole lot of people who think this film is completley fiction and who are happy to argue against what's stated in the film. Still, even though "JFK" mixes history with Oliver Stone's views, who is known to be incredibly political, the film is still a triumph. It's an incredibly solid, thorough, well-deveopled and entertaining film about what one of the most important events in American history.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, "JFK" is about Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orlans District Attorney during the time of JFK's assisnation on November 22nd, 1963. Garrison suspects there's more to the assisination than what is being revealed to the public and starts to probe the F.B.I. of a possible conspiracy involving multiple shooters. Much of the conspiracy surrounds Vietnam, as there was a desire to remove Kennedy since he did not feel comfortable to be fully involved with Vietnam whereas Lyndon B. Johnson was looking to make war. The film gives an overall view of the assisnation and those involved, as well as some of the aftermath.
What I love about "JFK" is how you feel a real sense of history behind it. I'm not saying what the film presents is one-hundred percent truthful, but the way it is constructed is brilliantly done. I was born long after JFK was shot, but the film really gives you a sense of what that time in the United States was like. I liked how scenes are interrupted with real footage. I liked seeing the news footage. I even liked the dramatized accounts of what really did go down. You can sense the sorrow of the nation, but in a way, it's all not one-sided: you do see disdain for JFK with the film.
With that said, the film's editing style is cruical to the film, as handled by Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia (who won Oscars for their work) - "JFK" is one of the best edited films I've seen. The film looks stylized, flows beautifully and has a unique style all its own. Again, I particularly enjoyed how it snips in and out real news footage and dramatized accounts. It may seem random at first but when it happens, it is relevant and works well. I also love the film's opening montage and gives a nice history of John F. Kennedy. The cinematography, which also won an Oscar, is lush as the film has a wide array of incredible shots. There's also John Williams' Oscar-nominated score. It's a fabulous score, and I'm afraid it is an underrated one of his - that man can do no wrong.
Oliver Stone's work here is downright impressive. Despite all his "fiction," you can't deny that he and co-writer Zachary Sklar bring up a lot of interesting, topical and significant issues concerning JFK's assisination that can - and probably always will - be debated. Stone as a director is at his best. The film is long, but he paces it appropriately and smoothly - every scene has its importance to the assisination as a whole and the characters themselves. In a way, the two stances do compliment one another nicely. Stone makes the film fascinating, exciting and always gripping - you always want to know what happens next. There is such a depth to "JFK" as far as what Stone is trying to say and what it offers between the lines and visually - it helps to revisit this film more than once. I've actually never seen the original cut of the film, and if I didn't find anything useless, then those extra 17 minutes inserted must be necessary.
The film's performances are pretty much flawless. Love him or hate him, Kevin Costner is simply riveting as Jim Garrison - the accent, his obsession over the assisination... he's quite credible and believe with strong chops in this film, as he really digs into the character (and this wouldn't be the last time he'd be in a great film about JFK). As his long suffering wife, Sissy Spacek dons an accent and plays off of Costner well. Tommy Lee Jones, Jay O. Sanders, Laurie Metcalf and Kevin Bacon also give nice supporting performances. Gary Oldman makes a great Lee Harvy Oswald, and the film is decked with cameos from some well known players and the finest character actors: Vincent D'Onfrio, Wayne Knight, Brian Doyle-Murray, the late John Candy (how I miss him), Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, Ed Asner, Jack Lemon and Joe Pesci to name a few. This all-star cast really gives life to Stone's story.
"JFK," in my opinion, is one of Oliver Stone's best movie if not his absolute best. Despite what is true and what may not be true, the film is fully realized and takes it's splendid time to explore, uncover and give many thoughts. It's well acted, well paced and really just a great piece of work from so many angles. The film is on the long side (this is a director's cut after all - but it really wasn't that short to begin with), but the film gets going pretty quickly and does move along quite nicely. Simply put, "JFK" is one of the most important American films ever made. If you haven't seen it all these years later, then certainly don't miss it now.
The director's cut of "JFK" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and this is a pretty good transfer. Sad to say, some flaws do detract some from the over quality of it. A major thing I noticed is that the transfer has some color bars at the left and right side of the image that extend down to the lower bar. The three color bar is slight, but it is distracting. There is also a little bit of edge enhancment, noise, shimmering and some edge halos. You'll also find a good deal of blemishes, dirt pieces and a scratch or two now and then (which are never fun). Still, despite all those instances, the transfer looks pretty pristine. There is a sharpness to the transfer which is quite admirable and nice to see. Detail is excellent while color saturation is well-saturated and pretty bold. There isn't much grain to the image either. It's a good-looking transfer, but with a little cleaning-up and more supervision, it could have probably been just about perfect.
The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track fits the bill perfectly. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear and does not get cluttered among the many other noises in the track - it stands out on its own nicely. The track has a strong dynamic range, good fidelity and is not distorted. Surround effects are pretty subtle and not as powerful as you'd expect, but there are quite a few of them and they work nicely - noises from behind, footsteps and yes, some fatal gunshots. John Williams' score fills the channels nicely and adds nicely to the film's atmosphere, while subwoofer use is pretty good. A robust and worthy track. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digitla dub, subtitles in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English as well as English closed captions.
The first disc has an Awards list and a Cast listing which features some filmographies for the actors. Still, the main draw here is the Audio Commentary with Director/Producer/Co-Writer Oliver Stone. As usual, Stone comes across as concise, intelligent and as a man who knows what he's doing and talking about. He doesn't exactly preach about his views but he offers a lot of his thoughts and gives an amazing amount of historical background (did he memorize ALL those dates?). Thankfully though, Stone's commentary isn't just about the context of the film - he gives a lot about creating the film. He mentions the structure of it, his vision for it and gives a lot of thoughts on those he worked on in the movie. Stone at times does narrate what's on screen, but I must compliment him for talking a lot during the 205 minutes. There's a pause here and there, but hey - it's hard to speak for over three hours straight without catching some of your breath. A fine track that offers further insight.
Much of the supplements are contained on the second disc. The big new addition here is the documentary Beyond JFK: The Question Of Conspiracy. At 90 minutes, this is one well worth watching. Needless to say, the documentary is a little bit out of date as it seems to have been released to conicide with the release of the film (probably as a TV special or something shown in classrooms). Clips from history, the movie and filming of the movie are shown - it's supposed to be like an EPK of sorts which ties in history, and while the coating is fluffy, there's a lot to find in here. There is some footage with the real-life historical characters and a slew of interviews with the actors in the movie, Oliver Stone and other noted journalists and historians (such as Walter Cronkite and Jim Marrs, author of one of the books the film is based on). The people give their thoughts on JFK himself and tend to open up on their stories involving JFK, the history of assisination and more. This documentary doesn't exactly separate fact from fiction, but given how many people are interviewed, the footage shown and what is said, it is pretty involving and is a nice compliment to the actual film.
The rest is left over from the previous special edition. Despite the film being so long in the first place, and that there is a Director's Cut, you also get 55 minutes (!) worth of Deleted/Extended Scenes (imagine if EVERYTHING was included). I guess some of the stuff here isn't needed and would make the film pretty bloated - but it's just a testament to Oliver Stone in how much he wanted to include and how much there is to the whole JFK saga (well, from his perspective anyway). There is also an Optional Commentary with Oliver Stone who gives views on the cuts and even offers more comprehensive history over JFK (the guy knows an incredible amount). Like the feature commentary, Stone gives anecdotes but there is so much more history to be found here. So if you're interested with JFK and love hearing what Stone has to say, it's worth it to go through these scenes on their own and with Stone's comments. There is interesting material here and for the record, the scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen and in decent quality.
There are two Multimedia Essays, which are really featurettes. The first, "Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughs of Fletcher Prouty" lasts 11 minutes and focuses on one of the most intriguing (and memorable) characters in the movie. The featurette is just the guy talking about his life (the audio is terrible) and his involvement. It's pretty interesting stuff, especially to compare with the film. The other featurette, lasting 30 minutes, is "Assination Update: The New Documents." This may not interest everybody as it is a bit dense, but the history is sure to interest many. Narration is over clips from the film and stills as JFK's assination is discussed as far as conspiracies, recent documents and new discoveries that bring some certain issues into more of a focus. The featurette is narrated by author Jim DiEugenio, author of Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba and the Garrison Case. He is also the editor of Probe Magazine. It really is for die-hard history buffs only, but in a way, is an intriguing follow-up to the film.
Rounding the disc set out is an anamorphic widescreen Theatrical Trailer, plus some DVD-ROM features in trailers, weblinks and reviews of the movie.
I love "JFK," but there are those who feel exactly the opposite. Nonetheless, I think it's one of the most important American films ever made - and it really does evoke a lot, despite the controversies. This new DVD was obviously made to tie in with the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assisination and is quite nice. A good 5.1 track, nice transfer and strong supplements make this an easy disc to pick up if you've never owned it before. If you do have the previous special edition, it's your call... the "Beyond JFK" documentary is excellent and worthy, but other than that, it's the same special edition as before. Still, it's a strong set and if you like the movie, well worth your time.