Filmed in Toronto by the Polone Co. in association with Hearst Entertainment. Exec producer, Judith A. Polone; producer-director, Harry Winer; writer, William Broyles; The pic concentrates on JFK from the ages of 16 to 29, ending with his first, successful run for Congress. It shows a physically frail John, rebellious and fun-loving and close to his siblings — especially Kathleen (Robin Tunney) — second not only in birth but in his parents’ esteem.
Pic is more positive about its subject than the title (and source work, Nigel Hamilton’s controversial biography) would suggest. The JFK presented here is more man than myth. He is motivated by idealism, not political expediency.
Patrick Dempsey, with his gangly build and shock of hair, does more than merely resemble JFK: He captures the essence of Kennedy, his wit, charm, charisma and emotional depth. One sees in Dempsey’s excellent portrayal suggestions of the mature JFK, whose persona is much better known.
Other family members don’t fare as well. Rose (Diana Scarwid) is seen as a cold, religion-obsessed, distant mother. Brother Joe Jr. (Loren Dean) is the heir to more than the father’s name: He is competitive, cold and ruthlessly ambitious. Joe Sr. is portrayed as the involved parent, whose ambitions for his children are equaled only by his love.
The movie’s leisurely pace is a welcome break from the fast cuts, superficial scenes and hurried feel so common in TV pix. Much time is spent on the PT 109 episode, one of the highlights. Allan Cameron’s music evokes both despair and hope; the scene of JFK and some of his shipmates singing gospel after being rescued is profoundly moving.
Although Hamilton’s book placed heavy emphasis on sex, the movie downplays it. Hamilton traces JFK’s rampant womanizing to father Joe’s own unrestrained sexual appetite. Save for a reference to Joe passing along some pornography to a teenage JFK and friend Lem Billings (Andrew Lowrey), and a speech by Joe about marriage and sex being totally separate, there is virtually nothing to support this supposition. John is portrayed as a horny teenager and then an amorous, but serially monogamous, adult.
All the cast members turn in fine performances, and all tech credits are superior.