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After the big success National Geographic Channel had with Killing Lincoln (based on Bill O’Reilly’s book) they are fully on board the scripted programming bandwagon and all in with O’Reilly. Killing Kennedy, their latest collaboration tells the story of the JFK assassination from the point of view of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Kennedy begins in 1959, at major turning points for both the future president and his assassin. John F. Kennedy (played by Emmy-award winner Rob Lowe) is in Washington, D.C., preparing to announce his presidential candidacy, while Lee Harvey Oswald finds himself in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, renouncing his U.S. citizenship.
These two events start both men—one a member of one of the United States’ most wealthy and powerful families, the other a disillusioned former Marine and Marxist—on a cataclysmic track that would alter the course of history. Throughout the film, we see their highs and lows, culminating in not one but two shocking deaths that stunned the nation.
The film seemed too interested in showing Kennedy’s womanizing than his actions as President, complete with brief amounts of nudity. When it did get into the Cuban missile crisis the picture painted wasn’t flattering. In one line he complains about being impotent and not having much of an idea of how to get out of it. Was I surprised by the subtle bias? No, it is based on a book by O’Reilly.
The cast was strong, particularly Will Rothhaar in a star turn as the sad sack Oswald and Michelle Trachtenberg who learned Russian to play as Oswald’s Russian wife. Rob Lowe brings a bit of humanity to Kennedy without becoming an imitation and Ginnifer Goodwin does a great job as Jacqueline Kennedy.
Director Nelson McCormick working from a script by Kelly Masterson does a fine job establishing the relationship between Oswald and his wife. The dual structure work well for this story. The juxtaposition adds a lot of texture and makes for compelling viewing.
O’Reilly of course takes the party line that there was no conspiracy involved and that everything that happened with Oswald including his ending up in Russia and then being allowed back in, showing up at Anti-Castro rallies, Ruby, etc, were all just a man searching for an identity. Another surprising new tidbit that I learned was that Oswald tried to kill a General a few weeks prior and again, nothing happened to him.
It is so odd watching this story unfold because there really was so many moments that should have sent up red flags to someone that this really was a preventable tragedy. If the FBI did their job, or the State department blocked Oswald or any of these other incidents had stopped him like they would have any other person.
Personally I’m a firm believer that there’s more to the story, it just seems so odd that all of these coincidences could happen to one little nobody who ends up killing the President? I don’t buy it. This film does a good job of making the establishment “lone gunman” theory.
I’m concerned with someone like O’Reilly writing their own version of history and having it get legitimatized by an organization like the National Geographic Channel. I don’t know how much of this film and O’Reilly’s book is based on truth or manufactured history, but as a movie it works really well and makes me want to learn more.
Killing Kennedy debuts on National Geographic Channel, Sunday, Nov 10th. Check your local listing for time and re-airings.