29 May marks 100 years since the birth of John F. Kennedy - a contested figure in modern history and a world leader whose life’s work is inextricably entangled in his untimely end.
The fallout from Kennedy’s assassination rocked US political and cultural consciousness, prompted an official government response in the form of the Warren Commission and spawned various counter-narratives from those who questioned the report’s findings. Originally captured on silent 8mm film by an amateur cameraman, the events of November 22, 1963 have since been replayed in documentaries and recreated in dramas, with the conflicting stories they tell becoming as much the narrative of Kennedy’s presidency as his actions when in office.
By the time of JFK’s release in 1991, Stone had an established track record of dividing audiences and critics, and showed no inclination of shying away from sacred cows. Platoon revisited a dark chapter in America’s recent past, Wall Street preached that “greed is good” and The Doors drew ire from some of Jim Morrison’s bandmates.
JFK found the director on familiar ground then, challenging established narratives and courting controversy. Following the investigations of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison - played here by Kevin Costner - the film's main argumentative thrust rejects the Warren Commission's findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and points towards a wider conspiracy responsible for orchestrating the assassination of the president.
Based on Garrison's ultimately unsuccessful attempts to shed light on the assassination and fraught with implications that government officials were involved, JFK was unsurprisingly controversial on first release. But it's proven resilient and as enduringly fascinating as the man himself. Whether celebrated because of or in spite of its contrarian leanings, JFK is a powerful piece of cinema which defiantly raises questions long suppressed or unanswered.