November 22nd will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Several television channels have started to air their own documentaries about that day. On Sunday, the National Geographic channel aired, Killing Kennedy based on the Bill O’Reilly book. I haven’t read the book, but did manage to catch Killing Kennedy and I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, what held my interest was the fact this was a Lee Harvey Oswald centered production. Past films don’t focus on him and he’s always an afterthought. Here we see his actions and can make assumptions as to what drove him to plan Kennedy’s assassination. I really enjoyed the scenes with Oswald featuring his marriage. We see their marriage crumble and Oswald’s frustration at the government. I believe this adaptation could have been made without the Kennedy’s.
What I didn’t like is the overall feeling that Kennedy is responsible for his death. Regardless if you believe the conspiracy theories or not, Killing Kennedy made the argument via Oswald that if Kennedy didn’t have an interest in Cuba, etc then perhaps Oswald wouldn’t have been inclined to plot his murder. Then there’s the harassment of US government officials following Oswald around that added to his paranoia in Killing Kennedy. So the reason for Kennedy’s death comes primarily due to Kennedy’s interest in Cuba and Oswald supporting the Cuban government.
In terms of the performances, Will Rothhaar as Oswald is fantastic! He brought to life a man who to this day remains a mystery and a sign of a really good actor is the ability for the audience to care about him even when we shouldn’t. Rob Lowe as Kennedy manages a solid performance and his accent is present throughout the film. Ginnfer Goodwin as Jackie is weak and leaves much to be desired. Even when she’s holding on to Kennedy outside the hospital or saying goodbye to him, the performance lacked deep emotional depth. Now a real surprise was Michelle Trachtenberg as Oswald’s wife Marina even though her accent could use some work.
In the end, Killing Kennedy was a satisfactory adaptation for the Oswald centered production alone. I haven’t read the book nor do I plan to, but it’s easy to see where Bill O’Reilly stands on the Kennedy assassination. If you’re looking for the smoking gun that will finally showcase that Oswald was set up or there was another gunman, you won’t find it here. Instead, you get an adaptation where Kennedy’s actions fueled Oswald’s resentment and Kennedy is responsible in the end.
The final scene in Killing Kennedy is Jackie sitting with presidential chronicler Theodore H. White (though in the adaptation she’s still wearing the pink suit with Kennedy’s blood and in real life she met with White a week after Kennedy’s assassination). Here she tells White that Kennedy was a legend and then explains how he loved to listen to the Camelot soundtrack. The last sentence she utters is, “Don’t let it be forgot / That once there was a spot / For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” It struck me as odd that this would be featured, but then O’Reilly wanted to set it up that way, as a reminder to viewers that the Kennedy legacy was branded and made up. It makes one pause for a moment and question if what O’Reilly is really saying is that the Warren Commission is part of that Kennedy brand.
Did anyone watch Killing Kennedy? If so, what are your thoughts? If you missed it, National Geographic will be reairing it.