It would be nearly impossible to consume every book, movie, and TV show appearing over the next few weeks to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of the first out of the chute (along with the October 4 theatrical release Parkland) is National Geographic Channel’s Killing Kennedy, which debuts Sunday night.
Based on the best-selling book cowritten by Fox TV host Bill O’Reilly, Killing Kennedy features Rob Lowe as the former president whose maturing boyish looks and avoidance of broad stereotypes get the job done. Will Rothhaar, as Lee Harvey Oswald, gives some dimension to a historical enigma. His portrayal of the assassin as a discontented agitator and loser who can’t find a niche helps NatGeo’s take; the film follows his journey as far back as his move to Moscow.
Jackie Kennedy fares less well in the hands of Ginnifer Goodwin, who sometimes gets the voice right but never quite captures the former First Lady’s mystique. (To be fair, few if any actresses have ever measured up to the challenge.) Even if she had nailed the impersonation, Goodwin is given little to do besides walking into or standing outside rooms as her philandering spouse enjoys himself with young female staff. It’s perhaps historically accurate, but there’s so much more to Jackie.
But for those planning a Kennedy anniversary binge, Killing Kennedy is a good beginning. It also got us thinking about other JFK portrayals. Here are four to watch as the anniversary approaches, and one to avoid:
Thirteen Days: A theatrical film released in 2001 dramatizes the Cuban missile crisis with Bruce Greenwood as a superbly low-key JFK.
The Missiles of October: Another Cuban missile crisis drama, this one made for TV in 1974 with William Devane as JFK. Not quite Greenwood, but a good one.
PT 109: Cliff Robertson plays JFK in this theatrical biopic released in 1963, five months before the assassination. Robertson ably plays US Navy Lieutenant Kennedy, commander of a torpedo boat in the Pacific in World War II.
JFK: Oliver Stone’s controversial and compelling 1991 theatrical film is really less JFK and more Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney who became famous for his investigation into the assassination. JFK, for the record, is portrayed by Steve Reed.
The Kennedys: A 2011 miniseries with Greg Kinnear playing the President is notable because it was dumped by its first home, the History Channel, and ended up on the Reelz Channel. Slate called it “pitiably cheap.”