Since JFK was such a momentous film about a momentous subject, there are literally hundreds of reviews that exist. They range from very positive to unbelievably negative, with the majority championing the negative campaign. Reviews of the film hit newsstands before it was even finished. Most journalists were outraged that Stone took such artistic license with the film. He intermingled real facts and characters with fictional ones and did so at such a fast pace that the audience cannot tell the difference. They also took issue with the hero of the film, Jim Garrison, the only man to bring anyone to court for the assassination of President Kennedy. In reality, Garrison was a disgraced litigator who turned his case against Clay Shaw into a circus act, bending the truth and fabricating evidence to support his own theories. Stone maintains that Garrison is just a symbol – the movie is, in fact, about Kennedy and the eternal search for what really took place on November 22, 1963. Proponents of the film applaud Stone for the incredible technical skill with which he made JFK. They find the film to be highly entertaining, captivating, and historically accurate in the sense that it captures the feelings and emotions of all those Americans who were alive when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Stone energetically engaged his critics. See these entries below: Lardner (May 1991), Belin, Ford and Belin, Lewis, Wicker.
- Canby, Vincent. "When Everything Amounts to Nothing." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. New York Times 20 December 1991: C1.
- Canby describes the film as winding up "breathlessly but running in place," never becoming much more specific than the opening scene in which President Dwight D. Eisenhower gives a televised farewell address in 1961, warning the American people to beware of the military-industrial complex. Canby's main criticism is that, while the film does make a case for the idea that there may have been a conspiracy, it does so in a frantic and rushed fashion, unable to separate "the important material from the merely colorful." The film accuses facets of government as far reaching as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, identifies right-wing fanatics who acted on their behalf in ways that are never fully determined, and completely loses Oswald's place within the conspiracy in the process. Canby concludes that though "the cause may well be worthy, the film fails it."
- Collier, Peter. "Ollie uber Alles." American Spectator April 1992: 28-31.
- JFK only pretends to be about the assassination of President Kennedy but, instead, is meant to portray America as a fascist state. Stone browbeats his audience with his theories of conspiracies and corrupt government initiatives: "JFK is the cinematic equivalent of rape." Collier spends a good portion of the article discussing the misrepresentation of both Jim Garrison and John Kennedy. Stone misrepresents Kennedy's feelings about the Cold War and Vietnam. Collier maintains that JFK is a representation of Stone's hatred for his country and a distortion of history.
- Ebert, Roger. "JFK." Chicago Sun-Times 29 April 2002. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020429/REVIEWS08/204290301/1023
- A little more than ten years later, Ebert still felt very strongly about JFK and the message it tries to deliver. He starts by saying that he does not know whether Stone's film is "historically accurate," nor does he care. He feels the film is not about facts; it's about feelings, and the film is successful in accurately reflecting the national mindset following November 22, 1963. He goes on to share an anecdote about running into Walter Cronkite, who berated him for praising Stone's film when he should have been tearing it apart for its inaccuracies and paranoid fantasies. While Ebert doesn't doubt that Cronkite is right from his own perspective, he as a film critic does not share that perspective. He is not interested in facts. "Facts belong in print. Films are about emotions." According to this standard, he once again describes the film as a masterpiece – a sort of collage of all the information passed down since 1963. In conclusion, he says the film is a "brilliant reflection of our unease and paranoia, our restless dissatisfaction. On that level, it is completely factual."
- Ebert, Roger. "JFK." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Chicago Sun-Times 20 December 1991. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19911220/REVIEWS/112200304/1023
- Ebert, in a highly positive review, describes the film as "hypnotically watchable," a masterpiece of film assembly that never falters or confuses us. As an avid reader of material on the subject, Ebert concludes that it is impossible to believe the Warren Commission Report because the physical evidence of the Abraham Zapruder film makes its lone-gunman theory impossible. Though he does note that the film never arrives at any conclusions, he makes it clear that this was not the film's intention. Rather, the film aimed to use Garrison to prove that the official version of Kennedy's assassination could not have happened. He also does not seem to mind Stone's decision to use Garrison as his figure head, a decision that so many journalists railed against. He sees Garrison as a mere symbol, and an appropriate one, since Garrison is the only person who attempted to bring anyone to court in connection with the assassination. In addition, he pays homage to the skillful editing of the film. He is also one of the only reviewers to comment positively on Costner's performance, which he calls "measured yet passionate."
- Epstein, Edward Jay. "JFK: Oliver Stone's Fictional Reality." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Atlantic March 1993: 89-94.
- In his lengthy and detailed review, Epstein compares Stone to Jim Garrison – citing that both men used a public platform "to focus attention on the possibility that the government was hiding the truth about the Kennedy Assassination." He finds, however, that Stone was far more successful than Garrison in rousing public interest. Epstein attributes this to the fact that Stone was able to fabricate "crucial evidence and witnesses that were missing in real life – even when this license required deliberately falsifying reality and depicting events that never happened." Epstein supports his claims by bringing certain characters and scenes. Most notable is the scene in which David Ferrie confesses every element of the whole operation to Garrison on the night of his death -- a confession that Epstein claims never happened. He also discusses the substitution of the fictionalized Willie O'Keefe to replace the flawed testimony of Garrison's real life witness, Perry Raymond Russo. O'Keefe's testimony provides the link between Oswald, Ferrie, Shaw, and the C.I.A. Finally, Epstein discusses what he describes as the "deus ex machina" – the fictional meeting Garrison has with X. The inspiration behind this character was Colonel Leroy Fletcher Prouty, a technical advisor for the film. Epstein goes on to debase Prouty, associating him with various conspiracy hunters such as opponents of the Holocaust, and explains that X's entire speech in the film was actually the product of a spoof written by political satirist Leonard Lewin for the humor magazine Monocle. In conclusion, Epstein states that Stone allowed himself to be taken in by "festering pools of fantasies," and in doing so he organized a "flight from reality."
- Howe, Desson. "Dallas Mystery: Who Shot JFK?" Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Washington Post 20 December 1991: N55.
- Howe calls the film a "riveting marriage of fact and fiction, hypothesis and empirical proof." He attributes much of the film's appeal to the fact that 73% of people at the time still did not believe the findings of the Warren Report that Oswald acted alone. Moreover, he explains that most people feel that Kennedy "deserved better," in a sort of ironic and morose dramatic sense. It was the end of Camelot and to accept that Oswald did it himself was far too banal. Howe finds the most stunning element of the film to be Abraham Zapruder's home-movie record of the incident, which he believed was used with "eerie effectiveness." He was not as impressed with the efforts of Kevin Costner, whom he describes as a "dead, vacant performer," though he goes on to backtrack slightly by saying a performer with personality "would only get in the way" of the real story, which is about Kennedy. Howe was impressed with the supporting cast, especially Joe Pesci's portrayal of David Ferrie and Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw. In summation, Howe asserts that this is not a piece of history or legal evidence, but a piece of art or entertainment.
- Kopkind, Andrew. "The Myth; Oliver Stone's Motion Picture." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Nation 20 January 1992: 40.
- Kopkind's review aims at defending Stone and everyone else who attempted to "deconstruct the myth" of the Kennedy assassination against the brutal media who labels them maniacs and kooks. He compares Kennedy to Jim Morrison; both "American icons of the same generation," and both the subjects of films by Stone. He describes the two in less than flattering terms – "the one a drug enhanced, sex-crazed, promising but unfulfilled rock star; the other a drug-enhanced, sex-crazed, promising but unfulfilled politician." He then asserts that the untimely death of both these men created cults that were vigorously followed and viciously defended. Kennedy's death in November 1963 formed "the central political myth of the public world" to all of those who were alive at the time. It is this myth that most critics take issue with. Unlike other conspiracy theorists, Stone does not attempt to deconstruct or debunk this myth. Rather, he substitutes a new, equally compelling myth for the one that had existed for so many previous years. Kopkind claims that Stone had every right to do what he did and that movies ought to be more than just great films, but also brilliant pieces of propaganda.
- Lardner, George Jr. "The Way It Wasn't; In ‘JFK,' Stone Assassinates the Truth." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Washington Post 20 December 1991: D2.
- "Oliver Stone knows how to make a movie. It's too bad he doesn't know how to tell the truth." These are the first two lines of Lardner's review. He does admit that the film is powerful and capable of remaining captivating for the entirety of its three-hour duration. However, Lardner takes issue with the way in which Stone shapes history to fulfill his own agenda and how he distorts facts to support his own ideas. He is mainly concerned with the angle that both Stone and Garrison took regarding the military-industrial complex killing Kennedy because he did not want to become embroiled in Vietnam. The film supports the theory that Kennedy meant to withdraw military personnel from Vietnam. He goes on to cite various ways in which Kennedy was against withdrawing the thousands of US advisors stationed there and that the 1,000 troop withdrawal was "just a gimmick." He also presents evidence that the military-industrial complex would never have plotted to make sure we got into Vietnam, especially after the Korean War. In closing, Lardner states that "Stone claims artistic license for his work. I don't know who gave him his license, but he ought to be arrested for reckless driving."
- Lardner, George, Jr. "On the Set: Dallas in Wonderland." Washington Post 19 May 1991: D1. See Stone's reply: "Stone's 'JFK': A Higher Truth? The Post, George Lardner and My Version of the JFK Assassination." Washington Post 2 June 1991: D3.
- This "review" -- 7 months before the film appears -- sets off the wave of negative press that the film generates and inaugurates Stone's entrance into a kind of pamphlet war in the popular press with his critics.
- Mailer, Norman. "Footfalls in the Crypt." Vanity Fair February 1992:124-30, 171.
- Mailer begins commenting on the history of Stone's career as a filmmaker. In discussing each film, Mailer is quick to point out what it is that keeps Stone's works from being "great" movies. When addressing Stone's highly controversial JFK, however, Mailer states, "The first thing to be said about JFK is that it is a great movie, and the next is that it is one of the worst great movies ever made," going on to discuss what it is that makes the film "great" while also naming its many flaws. Stone's potential success with JFK is the result of daring to go where no other filmmaker would.
- Will, George F. "‘JFK': Paranoid History." Rev. of JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. Washington Post 26 December 1991: A23
- In an extremely negative review, Will attacks not only the film, but he also personally attacks Stone, his intentions, and even his intelligence. He claims that the film "gives paranoia a bad name." He calls Stone's take on the assassination a "travesty" and wonders out loud what Stone would have thought about Gavrilo Princip assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. He sees the message of Stone's "celluloid diatribe" to be that everyone was responsible for Kennedy's death – the whole American establishment was in on it. He goes on to describe Stone as "45 going on 8," calling him an "intellectual sociopath" and the film "a three hour lie." He believes Stone to be a product of 1960's arrested development. "He is one of those ‘activists' who have been so busy trying to make history they have not learned any." He does not see how a conspiracy as far reaching as the CIA, FBI, armed forces, Secret Service, and the mafia could have been kept a secret for so long. He lists his favorite fabrications of the movie to be the assertion that US troops from Germany were airborne over America as part of the plot, and the assertion that the CIA had stories about Oswald's arrest in some foreign papers almost at the moment he was arrested. His zealous hatred of the film is brought to a point with the final sentence of his column: "JFK is an act of execrable history and contemptible citizenship by a man of technical skill, scant education and negligible conscience."
Ford, Gerald, and David W. Belin. "Kennedy Assassination: How About the Truth?" Washington Post 17 December 1991: A21. See Stone's reply: "The JFK Assassination -- What About the Evidence?" [Letter to the Editor] Washington Post 24 December 1991: A13.
Wicker, Tom. "Does JFK Conspire Against Reason?" New York Times 15 December 1991: H1. See Stone replies: "Via the Director's Viewfinder." [Letter to the Editor] New York Times 22 December 1991: H4. "Who Is Rewriting History?" New York Times 20 December 1991: H4.