(2019) Documentary (Gravitas) Brendan Sheehan, Samuel Stern, Vincent Bugliosi, Lloyd Weinreb, Howard Willens, Burt Griffin, Alfred Goldberg, Stephen Breyer, G. Robert Blakey, Murray Laulicht, Melvin Eisenberg, H.B. McLain, Bernard Weisman, Steve Barber, David Slawson, David Robarge, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Ruth Hyde Paine. Directed by Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman
It has been 57 years since the young, vibrant President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and it remains a topic of hot debate. Some say that accused assassin (who himself was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could stand trial) could not possibly have planned and carried out the murder of the President of the United States of America, one of the most protected men on Earth, by himself. Others say that there is no evidence to the contrary. Certainly, the country hasn’t been the same since.
It isn’t a stretch to say that most television programs, movies and documentaries (not to mention the legions of books published) on the assassin have fallen firmly into the conspiracy camp. As judge and assassination buff Sheehan (who acts as host here) asserts, “the money is in conspiracy theories.” People tend to want to believe in cabals and secrets, sometimes in the face of legitimate evidence – hence Q-Anon.
The filmmakers seek out surviving members of the Warren Commission – mostly junior attorneys and researchers, who are now in their 80s – to talk about the case, the evidence and the investigation. The filmmakers readily admit that Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission, made a major misstep when he suppressed the autopsy photos of the late President, which show that the bullets that struck him came from behind him on a downward angle. While Warren sought to spare the former First Lady as well as the millions of mourning Americans the horror of the damage done to the President’s body, the suppression gave the Commission an aura that they were hiding something.
The documentary takes the stance that the Warren Commission exhaustively went through the evidence and came to the proper conclusion. This isn’t going to sit well with conspiracy theorists; I have to admit, as someone who had doubts about the veracity of a lone crazed gunman assassinating the President of the United States, I found it hard to have long-held beliefs assailed by evidence to the contrary.
For example, the “magic bullet theory” which posits that the kill shot did all sorts of aerial physics-defying gymnastics in order to go through the President and impact Texas Governor John Connelly falls apart when we realize that Connelly wasn’t sitting directly in front of the President, but in a jump seat slightly to the President’s left – which means the bullet would have gone straight through both men.
=Sheehan is relentless in showing that there is no evidence of a shot originating from the Grassy Knoll, no evidence of Soviet, Cuban or mob involvement, and certainly not that there was any sort of grand conspiracy to get Kennedy out of the way to clear the way for the Vietnam War which put billions of dollars into the pockets of the military-industrial complex. I have to admit, the evidence is presented in a very intelligent and thorough manner, even if it gets a little dry at times as we listen to one old man after another talking about the case.
This is a rare documentary in that we not only get to hear from people directly involved with the investigation, but also with some witnesses including Ruth Paine, in whose house Marina Oswald stayed at the time of the assassination and where the assassin stowed his rifle before carting it off to the Texas Book Repository. There is also some footage and images that have not been shown publicly before, although much of the footage has been seen many times before.
It is very hard to change people’s minds of long-held belief. Most people aren’t all that open-minded to begin with, particularly when it comes to something as emotional as the Kennedy assassination. This is not always an easy documentary to sit through, but anyone who wants to understand how the Warren Commission arrived at its conclusions should see it. Even conspiracy theorists should give it a look; after all, there’s nothing like having your ideas challenged to give you the opportunity to prove them once again to yourself.
REASONS TO SEE: Very scholarly in tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very reliant on talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images (autopsy photos) and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sheehan is a judge in Ohio who argued cases before Griffin, who was a junior attorney on the Warren Commission; Sheehan, who had long been a Kennedy buff, struck up a friendship with Griffin based on that.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: JFK
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
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