Greetings again from the darkness. The premiere of this National Geographic channel production was held for a group of national writers and, thanks to the Dallas Film Society, we were able to be there for the very first theatrical screening – the first even for the writer and director, who were also in attendance. The event was held at the historic Texas Theatre, which of course, is where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured on that fateful November day in 1963.
Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) wrote the screenplay for this movie based on the book co-written by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, who also co-wrote “Killing Lincoln”. It should be noted that neither the books nor their corresponding movies provide any new information, and actually stick very close to the traditionally accepted chain of events (in Kennedy’s case that’s The Warren Report). These works aren’t meant to add fuel to the conspiracy theory fires, but rather to allow for straight-forward re-telling and visualization for those too young to have the images from 50 years ago etched into their memories.
This version in particular focuses on a 3-4 year period leading up to the assassination, and the parallels of Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald, and John and Jacqueline Kennedy. We witness the (fictionalized) account of Oswald renouncing his US citizenship and spending time in Russia where he meets Marina. Their return to the US focuses on his continued work at spreading the gospel of communism, especially supporting Casto’s Cuba. We see a bit more of Oswald as a family man than what we are accustomed to, but we are never far from his Marine-gone-bad image … and there is certainly an emphasis on making the point that Oswald was an expert marksman (though the point is often debated) despite his alleged failed attempt on the life of Army General Edwin Walker.
On the other hand, the Kennedy’s are portrayed as a loving couple, though JFK’s flings are not ignored. Here, Jacqueline is the devoted and extremely supportive wife of a man somewhat insecure in his new level of power. Their love for each other is driven home with numerous (actually too many) lines of dialogue that basically say “the one thing I couldn’t bear is losing you”. The behind-the-scenes glimpses include JFK listening to the “Camelot” soundtrack, his back pain and subsequent injections, and the numerous cracks and concerns from all involved about traveling to Dallas, a city viewed as politically volatile and dangerous.
The now very famous footage of Oswald’s final trek is expertly recreated mostly from the view point of Jack Ruby, though not much insight to Ruby is provided. Here he’s merely a justice seeking citizen who is frustrated that his beloved President was shot. Of course many other theories abound, as with most every aspect of the event. There is a very vivid re-enactment of the Oswald/Officer JD Tippit confrontation, and the Texas Theatre capture seems pretty authentic. We get very little attention on the FBI, CIA or Secret Service, and we are presented with the stark contrast in the funerals of Oswald and Kennedy. Minimal actual footage of Kennedy or Oswald is used until the very end of the movie, which allows the viewer to remain in “fiction” mode … much of what we see is speculation from the lives of these two families.
Rob Lowe and Ginner Goodwin are effective as Jack and Jacqueline, and a hefty Casey Siemaszko has the look of Jack Ruby. Michelle Trachtenberg may be a bit too pretty for Marina, but her demeanor is as imagined. Natalie Gold gets a few scenes as Ruth Paine, a piece of the puzzle often ignored in the story. The best and most affecting performance here is that of Will Rothhaar as Oswald. He balances the passion for the cause with the mental instability, and we never view him a monster – just a misguided, desperate man. Director Nelson McCormick (mostly TV work) never really judges these characters, and in the process leaves it to us to answer the real question on Oswald … patsy or no patsy?
**NOTE: See this on the National Georgraphic Channel, airing November 10.
watch the trailer: