Once more, a sunny day in Dallas. Cheering crowds fill the sidewalk. A gun-metal gray limousine cruises down Main Street, carrying a smiling young President and his attractive wife. And director Oliver Stone, continuing his obsession with the 1960s (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors), yells, ”Action!” JFK, Stone’s new movie about the only prosecutorial attempt to uncover a conspiracy behind the murder of John F. Kennedy, is rolling.
Currently filming in Dallas and New Orleans, JFK has Kevin Costner portraying ex-New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, who put businessman Clay Shaw (played by a white-haired Tommy Lee Jones) on trial in 1967 for his alleged role in an assassination conspiracy but didn’t win a conviction. Gary Oldman plays Lee Harvey Oswald, who JFK asserts did not fire the shots that killed Kennedy. The supporting cast includes Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and (in his first dramatic role) John Candy.
The hard-driving Stone is determined to give JFK a realistic patina. Though he has hired actors Steve Reed and Jodi Farber to play John and Jackie Kennedy (along with Randy Means and Columbia DuBose as Texas Governor John B. Connally Jr. and his wife, Nellie, who rode in the limo with the Kennedys), they will be used only in long shots. For close-ups, Stone will rely on colorized newsreels. He has also fought for and won permission to use authentic Dallas locations, including the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository (now a museum), from which Oswald supposedly fired the fatal shots, and the movie theater where Oswald was apprehended by police. (Stone saved it from demolition at the last minute by joining forces with rocker Don Henley to help a local historical society buy it.)
Stone has also decided that JFK should not suffer from too much competition. It’s common knowledge in the film industry that Stone expended a lot of energy to put roadblocks in the path of another movie about Kennedy’s killing, Libra. A partly fictional look at the life of Oswald based on the 1988 Don DeLillo novel, Libra was being prepared last fall by A&M Films and director Phil Joanou. Then Stone and his agency, the all-powerful CAA, let it be known that anyone involved with Libra was making a questionable career move. Joanou was persuaded to leave the project, and a subsequent deal for Libra to play on HBO was scuttled.
Another Kennedy-related film, Jack Ruby, will begin filming in Dallas once JFK blows town. A modestly budgeted drama directed by John MacKenzie, Ruby will star Danny Aiello as the Dallas strip-joint owner who killed Oswald two days after Kennedy’s murder.
JFK’s potential impact on public understanding of the murder has raised some concerns. Assassination expert David Lifton (author of Best Evidence) says the movie ”is definitely going to stir the pot.” In Lifton’s view, Stone’s intention to make a hero out of Garrison is problematic. ”He was a reckless prosecutor,” says Lifton. ”But Stone wants to portray him as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a noble hero who tries and fails. Which is, of course, pure Hollywood.”