TV Review: ‘Killing Kennedy’

Killing Kennedy review on National Geographic

National Geographic's latest Bill O'Reilly adaptation offers an alternating, once-over-lightly view of JFK, Oswald

Having scored record ratings with a movie adaptation of “Killing Lincoln,” the first in Bill O’Reilly’s “Fox News clearly doesn’t pay me enough” book series, National Geographic Channel’s decision to air “Killing Kennedy” timed to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination was a no-brainer. That’s also an apt description of this once-over-lightly treatment, which alternates between Kennedy and Oswald with nary a fresh beat, dutifully replicating scenes with all the finesse of reality-show reenactments. Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin lend the project star power as John and Jackie Kennedy, but the overall approach amounts to hair-styling and costume design in search of an actual movie.

Too often feeling like a book report version of history (especially compared to the numerous productions based on this material, most recently the miniseries “The Kennedys”), the movie races through JFK’s election, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and his notorious “woman problem” (as brother Bobby puts it) before that fateful day in Dallas.

At the same time, the narrative tracks young Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) as he tries to defect to the Soviet Union, lands Russian bride Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg, frequently subtitled, and otherwise sounding a lot like Natasha Fatale), and struggles to hold a job, what with the FBI hounding him for being a Marxist. A final, post-assassination portion involves the manhunt for Oswald, as well as his in-custody execution by Jack Ruby (Casey Siemaszko).

Written by Kelly Masterson and directed by Nelson McCormick, “Killing Kennedy” is so earnest and episodic as to sap any dramatic life from the movie, which weaves in selected news footage to enhance its sense of authenticity. Virtually all the dialogue is stiff and on the nose, and despite a parental-advisory warning, the whole thing seems calibrated to middle-schoolers wondering who this Kennedy guy is.

Joining a long roster of those who have portrayed JFK, Lowe — who brought considerably more verve to convicted killer Drew Peterson in a recent Lifetime movie — settles for an intermittent accent (a description that applies equally to Goodwin), without conveying any of the president’s charisma. Then again, the entire cast is about as animated as the figures in Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.

For all its shortcomings, “Killing Kennedy” will still probably deliver by NatGeo standards, thanks to the combination of O’Reilly’s incessant tub-thumping for his bestselling books and the project’s status as a rare scripted addition to November’s JFK-a-palooza.

“Dallas no good,” Marina complains to Lee, wondering why they settled in such an inhospitable town.

Da. And “Killing Kennedy” not much better.

TV Review: 'Killing Kennedy'

(Movie; National Geographic Channel, Sun. Nov. 10, 8 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Scott Free.

Crew

Executive producers, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Mary Lisio, Bill O'Reilly, Teri Weinberg, Howard Owens, Noel Siegel, Charlie Parsons, Richard J. Wells; producer, Larry Rapaport; director, Nelson McCormick; writer, Kelly Masterson; based on the book by O'Reilly, Martin Dugard; camera, Stephen St. John; editor, Adam Wolfe; music, Geoff Zanelli; casting, Carmen Cuba, Erika Arvold. 120 MIN.

Cast

Rob Lowe, Will Rothhaar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jack Noseworthy, Richard Flood, Francis Guinan, Casey Siemaszko

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  1. occultology says:

    Brought to you by the National Geographic [Secret] Society.

  2. William says:

    The movie lost all credibility with me within the first minute as Oswald emerged from his boarding room carrying the packaged “curtain rods”. The man who drove Oswald to work that day has stated time and again that the package Oswald carried that day could in no way contain a rifle, even if it was broken down. I didn’t read the book, and probably won’t. Same old information.

  3. Paul says:

    What a shock that a Variety reviewer wouldn’t like a movie based on a book written by O’Reilly. The gratuitous swipes at him are a big surprise, too.

  4. occultology says:

    They just don’t make good political propaganda anymore. The passion for selling the government’s lies just isn’t there after 50 years. Either lie better or start telling the Truth, which is a great, untapped new market.

  5. c. williams says:

    Killing Kennedy made a mockery of the truth behind the true story. I can not believe that the National Geographic channel would put such blatant lies about what really happened on Nov, 22, 1963 on television. There is no way that Oswald could have made those shots from the book depository, he was a terrible shot, according to Marine records. and it was impossible to make those shots with the mannlicher, expert marksman have tried and said it was not possible. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

  6. carsonbridges1@gmail.com says:

    There were 68 witnesses that said they heard a shot from the grassy knoll…why O’Reilly and the movie producers did not include this in the book and the movie is a disservice. I thought the movie was horrible and done like a soap opera.

    • Poorly done. Cheap sets. Not in keeping with 90 % of the American people who believe the assassination was a conspiracy. I’ve lost confidence in O’Reilly who was not up to researching the two million pages released to the public between 1992-1999 which clearly prove that Oswald did not kill Kennedy. It’s a cover-up

  7. Upperhanded says:

    Lowe is more equipt to play Rose Kennedy..and the Oswald character looked more like a Kennedy…
    this was like watching the Lil Rascals put on a production of Camelot in their back yard..we shouldn’t expect much From Nat. Geo. Channel..and fortunately they don’t disappoint..what no Lady Ga Ga doin Marilyn?…this was a waste of my time.

  8. J.P.Hamelin says:

    Spot on.

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