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Kennedy Overload

6 Nov, 2013 By: John Latchem

It’s a common practice to commemorate certain historical events with a bevy of tie-ins, be they new movies or documentaries about the subject, or re-releases of older material on DVD or Blu-ray. But I can’t recall an event prompting such depth of material as the upcoming 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

The latest entry into this pool of historical examination is National Geographic Channel’s TV movie Killing Kennedy, which airs this Sunday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m., and will likely make its way to DVD and Blu-ray in a few months. The telefilm stars Rob Lowe as Kennedy, Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy, Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald and Michelle Trachtenberg as Oswald’s wife, Marina.

I had the good fortune of attending the Los Angeles premiere of the Killing Kennedy, and found it to be a deft adaptation of the book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. The book, like Killing Lincoln before it, is structured as a parallel tale between a U.S. president and his assassin, leading to the fateful events that bring them together.

The performances are all quite good, with Lowe holding the line with a more-than-passable JFK impression. But the revelation is the grounded performance of Rothhaar, who doesn’t paint Oswald as anything more than a troubled young man with something to prove. Trachtenberg also is  quite good as his suffering wife, practically unrecognizable behind a wall of thick Russian dialogue.

If anything, I might have made the movie more about Oswald’s side. While it’s necessary to portray events such as the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis to give Oswald something to respond to, the Kennedy side of events has been dramatized countless times already in movies, TV shows and miniseries, as if filmmakers just can’t resist the lure of portraying the glamour of Kennedy’s Camelot.

The Kennedys miniseries from 2011 gave us most of these scenes with Greg Kinnear as JFK (though Goodwin is a step up from Katie Holmes as Jackie). And watching Lowe during the assassination scene, I couldn’t help but think back to his “West Wing” co-star Martin Sheen in the same role in the 1983 Kennedy miniseries.

It’s the Oswald side that tends to get short shrift, more often than not buried under concurrent examinations of the latest conspiracy theory to pop up (most of which are easily discredited). Killing Kennedy demonstrates in chilling detail how easy it was for Oswald to carry out the assassination on his own, with no need for a vast conspiracy.

Funny as it seems, the closest I could think of another dramatization that tried to get into Oswald’s head this much was a story arc on “Quantum Leap.”

What struck me many times watching Killing Kennedy, and having just a few weeks ago viewed the underrated Parkland, which re-creates the immediate aftermath of the shooting, was how many scenes coexist between the two (with different actors, of course). In fact, one of the things I enjoyed about Parkland was seeing so many events that had been described in the Killing Kennedy book.

Still, for those who might not have seen any of the other Kennedy projects out there, Killing Kennedy should provide a good capsule of events that while hopefully encourage further examination into this pivotal turning point of American history.

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