There are so many Kennedy films this year the Emmy folks may want to consider a special category.
Among the most reverential: “Killing Kennedy,” a TV movie on the National Geographic Channel.
Based on Bill O’Reilly’s best seller, the film takes a respectful – almost 1988 – view of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Showing a good chunk of Lee Harvey Oswald’s back story, it hits plenty of the headline-making moments but doesn’t really give Kennedy (here played by a reverent Rob Lowe) much more than talking points.
Director Nelson McCormick hints at philandering, shows the president’s back problems and lets him have a moment or two with the Cuban missile crisis. But he doesn’t delve too deeply in the myth that enveloped the man. This is textbook Kennedy, not tabloid Kennedy or touchstone Kennedy.
When Jackie (a miscast Ginnifer Goodwin) tells him she’s going off to Greece, he says, “I want you to be careful around that Onassis character.” Interesting, but that seems more like O’Reilly conjecture than White House fact.
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The film tries to make something of Kennedy’s love for the musical “Camelot” as well and uses it as a button. Nice, but the more interesting look is at assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) who seems more desperate than crazed. McCormick shows him four years before the deadly day in Dallas and traces his path to the book depository. His family enters the picture, too (Michelle Trachtenberg does a nice job as Marina), and we get plenty of the iconic scenes we’ve come to associate with 1963.
But as understandable as it may be, the attempt to make this a story about two men grates. It’s as if someone wanted to elevate Oswald in order to humanize Kennedy. It doesn’t work – nor does the Oswald funeral scene.
The life and death of John Kennedy has become such a riveting moment in American history it’s difficult to watch in a different light. McCormick dresses it up with real news footage but that only calls attention to the film’s shortcomings.
“Killing Kennedy” is respectful. It just may not be what we need now, 50 years after his death.
“Killing Kennedy” airs Sunday on the National Geographic Channel.