Whether or not you buy in to the conspiracy theories at the movie’s core – and there is a lot of contentious material in there – there is no denying that purely as a film, it is an astonishing cinematic achievement.
The biggest directorial triumph, I think, is that even though the film is essentially one long, exhaustive series of facts and theories – it’s almost entirely history, exposition, supposition and suggestion doled out by a colourful cast of characters to Kevin Costner‘s Jim Garrison and his legal team – it is never anything but compelling viewing, even with its three-hour-plus running time.
However fascinating the background to and theories about Kennedy’s assassination are, wading through the minutiae of his presidency and the dry political, economic and social facts that need to be understood to fully grasp and appreciate the conspiracy theories is a daunting task and most directors would struggle to hold an audience if they tried to put it up on screen.
Stone not only succeeded in presenting these facts and theories in a coherent and absorbing fashion, he created one of the greatest movies of the 20th century in the process.
His skill in presenting the facts, and blending them seamlessly with his theories about the conspiracy, was obvious from the film’s first fame.
In a six-minute opening-credit sequence, narrated by Martin Sheen, he presents a wonderfully informative, clear and concise potted history of JFK’s presidency and the other forces at work in the world at the time. It packs more information into those six minutes than most movies manage in their entire running times, yet it never feels like a history lesson.
Here is that opening sequence: