‘Killing Kennedy’ TV Review: Nothing New In JFK Docu-Drama
Killing Kennedy, the TV movie adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book of the same name, premiered on National Geographic on Sunday evening after months of fanfare and anticipation. Instead of feeling like a first-rate docudrama honoring and celebrating John F. Kennedy’s life and death, while simultaneously shedding light on his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald – it felt like a rather cold and formulaic two hours of nostalgia laced with some superficial insight on the man who killed the president.
The first shot of Killing Kennedy captures the Oswalds modest Texas dwellings and follows the would-be killer out the door and into the car that would take him to work. The rifle is wrapped up in packaging, which Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) tells the driver is curtain rods. Once he gets to the Texas School Book Depository, he stealthily makes his way to the fateful room from where he’d fire the shots. Aiming down into the motorcade, the first shell drops dramatically to the floor and then the film hurdles backwards to John F. Kennedy (Rob Lowe) announcing his plan for the presidency.
It’s not easy to play a larger-than-life man that became a legend in death. Lowe, like a number of others before him, struggled to capture JFK’s otherworldly charisma. He clearly made a point of nailing Kennedy’s posture and succeeded well enough in mimicking his New England accent, but he never completely shed Rob Lowe to morph into JFK. Ginnifer Goodwin, meanwhile, channeled Jackie’s overall charm and demeanor, while not quite managing to get the former First Lady’s breathy upperclass New York speech and wispy way of walking. Fortunately for both Rothhaar and Michelle Tratchtenberg, who played Oswald's wife Marina, not enough is known about the the real people behind their parts to detract from their performances
Throughout much of the TV movie, John and Jackie Kennedy (Goodwin) and their life in the White House parallels that of Lee and Marina Oswald. That, along with the abbreviated narrative of two very complex individuals with complex lives, gave the project a paint-by-numbers feel. It covered Kennedy’s election, his penchant for White House interns, his affection for the music from Camelot. Lee, meanwhile, is surly and disenchanted, fighting with his coworkers and lavishing attention on his guns. Ultimately, it all feels rather dry and unaffecting – two words that certainly don't correlate with JFK's legacy and his death that stunned the world.
O’Reilly’s book received rave reviews for not only its ability to turn well-known history into a verified page-turner, but for the unique takes it had on Oswald. Unfortunately, the TV movie neither proved compelling enough to leave one wanting for more, nor did any of the ideas presented within it come off as anything other than the theories most American’s are already familiar with.
– Chelsea Regan