Killing Kennedy (Blu-ray Review)

Killing-Kennedy2013 marked the passing of 50 years since one of the darkest days in American history; the assassination of the 35th President of the United States of America John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  In light of this (is it in good taste to call it a “milestone”?) half century of time passage, a film based on the event and leading up to it was put into commission.  The film, Killing Kennedy, was aired on The National Geographic Channel back on November 10 and was produced by acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott.  The film received rather mixed reviews, but garnered star Rob Lowe a Screen Actors Guild award nomination for his portrayal of the fallen President.  Now, it’s coming to you on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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Killing Kennedy tells the story of both President John F Kennedy and his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from Kennedy’s announcement of his election to the funerals of both men.  It’s told in a fashion of paralleling the two men.  Two men with different agendas for our country whose lives would be forever linked.  We’ve all learned this tale in our history books, and here’s a movie depicting it.

This television film is nice, but ultimately is cramming this tale into under an hour and a half.  The story they are wanting to tell would have been far more suited for a mini series than just a TV movie.  There’s really no weight or depth to any of it (aside from you personal education and understanding).  It plays as a “greatest hits” of this time, chocked full of some really corny lines that you know were never ever said in real life and hokily try to make things haunting or foreshadowing.  You get certain important events, but nothing is ever deeply explored, just put out in a factual fashion rendering the entire film pretty hollow.  It suggests drama, but never explores it.  It has the same impact as it does when you’re in school reading it in your lame history book.

I found it really interesting that the performances on both sides of this tale are quite the opposite just like the story wants to tell.  On the presidential side of things, Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin are quite great as John and Jacqueline even if they aren’t given really strong material.  Both are able to rise above it and make this movie stronger than it really ever desires to be.  Much of the unearned moments and the like work because of these performers.  Also of mention is Jack Noseworthy’s turn as Bobby Kennedy.  He gets some challenging moments and really knocks one out of the park and has a most convincing turn as the President’s brother.

On the other side of the tracks, it’s a different story.  Will Rothaar gives an amateur hour spin on what should have been the meatiest and best role in the entire film.  His evil and bravado feels like something out of an ABC Family original movie.  The guy is never convincing and you can almost tell the actor is scared to go to these places.  You never really buy that he himself is committed or dedicated to this role.  An important part of a performance is getting behind your character and despite the horrors with which you commit, your character always believes they are doing these things for the greater good.  I never once got that from Rothaar.  He gives a very apprehensive performance in the one role that is actually given some meat.  Playing is wife is Michelle Tracthenberg who never feels very much convincing herself and appears to have taken a role that may have been out of her element and range.

The film was based on a book by Bill O’Reilly and I’ve not read it, but there’s no way the book is this straight forward and simple.  All this does is pinpoint specific events and really give you the Cliff’s Notes of them.  Like, Kennedy’s affairs are suggested and brought up, but nothing comes of any of it.  No discussions or whatnot.  Its simply just presenting a fact and not exploring it.  They also try and pin this whole thing on the failings of one FBI agent.  It’s also really “too cute” of a movie, as everyone looks crisp clean and dolled up as if they could bust out into song.  Also, it’s just littered with some poor dialogue choices, including Jack Ruby’s introduction which is beyond embarrassing and almost feels like a 6th grader’s JFK fan fiction film.

I suppose this is a movie that could work well for very young children in schools, but for adults and older ones, there’s nothing here that’s much interesting beyond a few performances.  They really should have gone the mini series route and fleshed this thing out building to the inevitable and intense finish and tried to make the viewer really feel the impact of one of this country’s darkest days.  Hell, Mad Men did a better job with that than this movie.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1:78.1

Clarity/Detail: There’s a fairly good amount of detail here, but one could beg for some more.  There were some nice instances of seeing wallpaper texture, paint peeling and cracking from molding and rust on concrete steps.  The fuzz on fabrics was pretty noticeable as well as seeing some blemishes on the fabric of a car’s interior ceiling lining (which was also hanging down as if the glue had worn).

Depth:  The depth here is decent, but much is to be desired as it’s a bit more flat than one would want.  That might be due to the TV-level of production.

Black Levels:  There is some dark dark black here with some crushing evident.  If someone is wearing black or something is in a dark corner, not much in the way of detail can be made out.

Color Reproduction:  The coloring here is solid at its best.  Nothing really pops much and a lot of it looks plain.  Its good in some areas, but overall a kind of dull look.

Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones were decent if a bit cold.  There are instances where skin looks sort of glossy but it isn’t dominant throughout.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing from any new footage to speak of.  Some stock footage from the 60s is used and that can look at bit rough, as well as some of the 8mm shot home movies (although I really liked the look of them).  One odd choice was that the stock footage was originally 4:3 and they decided to stretch it, but with the 8mm home movies specifically shot for this they left them 4:3.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: Volumes and pitches were fine throughout.  It’s a nice loud and clean track.  Everything you need is clear and precise.  Sound effects waiver in volume and sound relatively authentic.

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer played for some solid accompaniment in the mix.  It was never a distraction nor was it a showstopper.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This is a track dominated by its front channels.  The only material playing in the back is a lowered volume version of the score and some very light ambience.  Nothing else to speak of ever occurred in the rear channels.

Dialogue Reproduction:  The dialogue is loud, clean and clear.  Very center channel heavy on it.  But this is probably the shining star of the track.

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This Blu-ray comes with a decent array of bonus material as well as a UltraViolet copy of the film.  Also this release features 2 cuts of the film.  The one that was broadcasted and an extended cut (you know with more boobs, swearing and blood! I’m kidding I’m kidding).

Extended Cut – This version of the film runs a little over 2 minutes longer than the one that aired on television.

Camelot’s End: The Making Of Killing Kennedy (HD, 19:34) – A featurette with the cast and crew discussing making the film, the Kennedy legacy and fitting into their roles and respecting the subject matter as best possible.

Killing Kennedy: An Interview With Author Bill O’Reilly (HD, 6:06) – Bill O’Reilly discusses his fascination with the topic, being a young beat reporter when the event happened.  He discusses writing the book and how his view on a conspiracy of the matter changed over time.

The Kennedy Mystique (HD, 6:38) – Cast and crew go over the lore and legend of the iconic stature of the Kennedy family.

Virginia Is For Lovers: Tourism Commerical (HD, :16) – A pointless super short ad for Virginia is included here.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

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Killing Kennedy was something I took a little bit of interested in, but was ultimately kind of disappointed with the finished product.  Fox delivers a solid Blu-ray complete with two cuts of the film and a few bonus items.  The picture and audio look good too.  I don’t know if I can recommend adding this to your collection, unless you’re wanting something to show your kids at the earliest age they learn of the event.  I thought Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin were pretty great in it, but ultimately you could just wait for it to re-air on TV to see it or check your VOD services.  This was just too simple for my tastes.  Especially when you are telling your tale through a medium that gives you an advantage of exploring your stories and giving them plenty of meat to chew on.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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