Thursday, April 22, 2010
Conspiracies theories are everywhere from something as minor as sports and rivalries to stupid like Bigfoot, Area 51, and the Loch Ness monster. But the conspiracy to top them all is the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald is known as the shooter, but for years conspiracy theorists have wondered what actually happened that November day. Were there other shooters, was Oswald even involved or just a dupe?
What has driven these theories all these years is that there are too many holes in the explanation provided by the lone shooter theory. Everything doesn't add up, leading to speculation that it was all an immense conspiracy that killed JFK. Who was part of it? Who knows, but answers range from government to big business to right wing to extremists and some who insist Oswald was the lone shooter. We'll almost certainly never know who killed Kennedy and how it was accomplished, but we can always wonder and theorize what actually happened. With that idea is 1973's Executive Action.
This is a movie that doesn't wonder if there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, it's the conspiracy that does kill Kennedy. A title card explains the background and says 'This is what could have happened.' In that sense, it's extremely startling. In the same way United 93 and World Trade Center were uncomfortable to watch because they were made so close to 9/11, Executive Action is difficult to watch because of its subject matter. We know in the end Kennedy will be shot driving in his motorcade, but that doesn't take away from the surprise of it all. The assassination planners are talking about killing the president of the United States in an honest, forthright manner.
It's summer 1963 and a group of powerful right-wing activists (including Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Will Geer) meet together at a luxurious mansion. Their analysts have predicted a future that has a Kennedy (John, Bobby and Ted) in the White House with other Kennedys holding key positions in the Cabinet. None of these powerful men like the direction the country is taking with JFK in its most powerful position and have begun to put a complicated plot to kill the President. Two teams go about preparing for the hit (led by Ed Lauter and William Watson) with black ops operatives. While the plot is formed, the higher-ups begin to set up a plan that will paint Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. Everything comes together, and then the date comes along. November 22, 1963 will be the day.
The special features offer interviews that explain everyone involved in the movie was warned that their careers were probably over if they made the movie. It's presented as a documentary as if this is how it happened, not just an interpretation of what might have happened. It is a quick-moving story that never lingers long on one part of the story. The longest segment is of course the actual assassination as three gunmen set up to shoot JFK, one in the Book Depository, one on the grassy knoll, and a third on a nearby hotel roof. It's an eerie, spooky scene that is filmed like a scene out of any political thriller, not one where the President is shot. Like the rest of the movie, it is unsettling to say the least.
Seeing a story like this which deals with such a controversial 'what if?' in history, I was more than a little surprised to see big names like Lancaster and Ryan involved. The focus is clearly on the assassination conspiracy with characters being completely secondary. Ryan is the right wing leader of the group, and Lancaster is the mysterious orchestrator of the plan with years of black ops experience working for him. These are brilliant minds who believe the choice they've made will benefit the United States for years to come. We're not talking a month or two down the road, but in terms of world affairs, especially U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Like any movie based on a conspiracy or a controversial topic, it's up to the viewer to decide how much they'll believe, or maybe more importantly, how much they'll allow themselves to believe. Could this have happened as the movie presents it? Sure. No matter what you believe though, it's hard not to admit that as presented here, the conspiracy theorists have lots of ammunition to use to prove that it wasn't a lone gunman that killed Kennedy. Believe it or not (I tend to lean toward the conspiracy side), Executive Action is a fascinating 'what if?' We'll never know what happened but it is always interesting to wonder what did happen.
Executive Action <----trailer (1973): ***/****