If you feel obligated to watch one of the many Kennedy-related shows airing this month but you don’t want to strain yourself, “Killing Kennedy” (8 tonight, National Geographic Channel) is the one for you.
It’s a quick and superficial look at the president and his assassin that gives you the basic facts without requiring any real emotional investment.
The film starts on the day of the assassination in Dallas, then quickly takes us back to see a Lee Harvey Oswald ( Will Rothhaar), young and radically progressive, determined to defect to Russia. In Minsk, he meets Marina ( Michelle Trachtenberg) whom he marries; but it’s cold and well, it’s Russia, so he takes his wife and child and returns to the U.S.
Meanwhile, JFK ( Rob Lowe) is getting elected, learning on the job how to be a president, and cheating on his wife Jackie ( Ginnifer Goodwin).
The worlds of the men meet during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oswald is deeply offended at America’s intervention in Russian affairs and ardently supports Fidel Castro.
Basically, the film portrays Oswald as not just a radical, but unstable, a lost kid who wants fame and notoriety and who believes he’s a deep thinker, but really is just a loser and an abusive husband to boot. I guess all that could be true, but there isn’t a clue how Oswald came to these radical progressive views.
Still, he doesn’t come out with the film’s worse portrayals. Nope, that distinction goes to the women in this film.
Both Goodwin and Trachtenberg pretty much just get to stand by and look anguished or swoony as their men go about doing what they want. There’s a scene where JFK is skinny dipping in the White House pool with other women and the Secret Service tells Jackie the pool is closed, though she can hear the squeals of trollops with her husband. The movie doesn’t even allow her to get mad. (Side note: this brought me to ponder Mellie, the First Lady on “Scandal.” Is is better to have a President husband who you know doesn’t love you or a President husband who professes he can’t bear to lose you while he sleeps with a range of women? Discuss.)
I have to say, for the most part this film bored me. It moved too fast to get me invested (even the Cuban Missile Crisis lacked tension) and there wasn’t much new revealed. Of course, the post-assassination scenes were moving, especially since they were mixed with actual news footage, a trick used throughout the film. (Rob Lowe, doing a fine Boston accent, is wasted in this, by the way.)
But in the end, “Killing Kennedy” didn’t engage as much as telegraph touchstones of the Kennedy era, a dark time even for those who didn’t live through it. Certainly a film shown during the anniversary of that sad time should make you feel something. This one doesn’t.