NEW YORK — 'JFK," the new movie by Oliver Stone, has arrived in a blaze of publicity - some pro, some con, and much of it angry.The anger comes largely from people who can't imagine why Mr. Stone has chosen to promulgate and celebrate the theories of Jim Garrison, who claimed that the official Warren Commission covered up the facts behind John F. Kennedy's assassination. Stone is wrong to resurrect Mr. Garrison's views, these critics say - partly because Garrison's own investigation has been accused of trickery, and partly because it's simply not nice to suggest that an American president was killed by a military coup involving t he CIA, the FBI, and even Lyndon Johnson, who became president when Kennedy died. Not nice, indeed. But movies like "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July" have proved that Stone loves to raise a ruckus, especially when it gives him a chance to delve into the 1960s, his favorite decade. "JFK" finds Stone ruffling as many feathers as he can, even in his casting decisions. Who else would choose Garrison himself, arch-enemy of the Warren Commission, to play Chief Justice Earl Warren? The argument that "JFK" tries to validate an invalid theory seems beside the point to me. Although it makes a vigorous and one-sided argument for its views, the movie never lets us forget that it is a movie, if only because the screen is full of Hollywood stars - from Kevin Costner as Garrison to Sissy Spacek as his wife, Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald, and Tommy Lee Jones as the businessman whom Garrison prosecuted (unsuccessfully) for aiding the assassination. These actors are playing characters, not fabricating history, and we're free to find truth, falsehood, irrelevance, or boredom in the scenes. What's important is not that Stone is right or wrong, but that he reminds us of deficiencies charged against official accounts of the assassination. As a film, meanwhile, "JFK" is a wild ride. Whatever else may fascinate Stone about the '60s, he clearly learned a lot from the avant-garde cinema of the period. "JFK" is the most explosively edited movie in ages, zapping the eye with a dazzling barrage of images: dramatic scenes, newsreel clips, TV footage, black-and-white reenactments, slow-motion atmospherics, all glued together by a complex sound track. Whatever you think of Stone's arguments, there's no dodging the virtuosity of his filmmaking. "JFK " marks the high point of his career. The acting is less consistent. In the leading role, Mr. Costner strikes a single heartfelt note, which is monotonous but perhaps appropriate for the relentlessly stubborn man he plays. He gets excellent support from Mr. Jones and Mr. Oldman, and Joe Pesci is his usual manic self. Jack Lemmon and Ed Asner work a little too hard at being pathetic, however, and Walter Matthau doesn't have enough to do. A special nod goes to Donald Sutherland, as a mysterious military man, for deftly balancing seriousness an d parody. Stone wrote the screenplay with Zachary Sklar, based on books by Garrison and Jim Marrs. Robert Richardson did the superb cinematography, and John Williams composed the moody score. Controversy and all, "JFK" is one of the year's most powerful and provocative films.
Rated R for language.