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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, review: Oliver Stone adds evidence to his conspiracy theories

“Conspiracy theories are now conspiracy facts,” declares Oliver Stone in his new documentary about the JFK assassination, 30 years after the rabble-rousing feature that made his position well-known. To wit, per Stone and plenty of experts: the lone gunman theory doesn’t hold up, the FBI lied about bullet wounds and witness statements, the CIA wanted Kennedy out of the way, and Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy.

Not all of these are quite what you’d call iron-clad facts, despite Stone manfully bolstering the case for a cover-up in this dense, absorbing two-hour companion piece to his 1991 film – cut down from a four-hour version he also promises to make available. There’s a huge amount to take on board, some of it new-ish. Partly thanks to the first film’s impact, the declassification of US government records was accelerated in the early 1990s, and much extra research done since. (One new document proves the CIA knew that LBJ was sympathetic to a ground invasion of Vietnam, contrary to JFK, who was adamant this wouldn’t happen.)

The holes in the Warren Report, which Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison tried to expose, only gape wider. Particularly: how was ex-CIA chief Allen Dulles, whom JFK fired over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, allowed to be part of it? Why do the official autopsy photos not match all the others? How come Oswald’s supposed rifle was not the same model he mail-ordered?

The film is strongest on the forensic chaos that always looked so dubious, and the circuitous chain of custody that allowed a “magic bullet” of deeply unclear provenance to be entered into evidence. This wasn’t the fatal one, but the first one, which is meant to have entered through Kennedy’s back, come out through his throat, and then caused a whole spider-web of wounds on Gov John Connally in the front passenger seat.

Connally himself refused to believe one bullet had achieved all this, and yet the FBI absolutely had to make that explanation stick, to “close the loop on Oswald’s guilt” rather than admitting other snipers must have helped in crossfire. The first phone call of grieving Bobby Kennedy was to Langley, to ask the CIA if they were culpable.

Getting Donald Sutherland to narrate is good movie sense, given his original role as “Mr. X”, a composite government spook. The film sags when it moves onto Oswald’s intelligence connections, which don’t add up as compelling proofs of anything.

Stone packs a ton of information in, then lurches to a halt; while he milks Kennedy’s mistrust of the three-letter agencies, his grasp of “what really happened” is still fundamentally guesswork. Still, he does persuade us of smoking guns out there that weren’t Oswald’s, or anywhere near the book depository. Mentions of the grassy knoll this time? Zero, which is just as well.

In cinemas now

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