‘JFK: Destiny Betrayed’: Oliver Stone digs even deeper into his conspiracy theories
Four-part assassination doc revisits the familiar evidence and spotlights some little-known clues.
Someday we might see a four-part documentary series laying out the case that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he assassinated President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, forever changing the course of history.
Pretty safe bet: Oliver Stone will not be the one to deliver such a series.
Ever since the release of the controversial, provocative, wildly inventive and at times bat-bleep crazy “JFK” in 1991, Stone has been arguably the most public and vocal JFK assassination conspiracy theorist in the world. (Just last year, Stone released the feature documentary “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.”) As we’re reminded in the writer-director’s sprawling, at times overwhelmingly dense, heavily researched and transparently biased “JFK: Destiny Betrayed,” he’s hardly alone on this hill. There are dozens upon dozens of historians, journalists, physicians, ballistics experts, witnesses and like-minded researchers, as well as a seemingly bottomless pit of documents, supporting Stone’s firmly held contention Kennedy was the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy and that the investigation into his assassination was a sham.
A four-part series available Tuesday on digital platforms.
Will this series change your mind if you think Oswald acted alone? Perhaps. Will it reinforce your opinion if you’re firmly entrenched in the camp that believes Oswald was indeed a patsy, as he claimed shortly before Jack Ruby killed him, and that nefarious forces combined to eliminate the president and then cover their tracks? Absolutely.
Debuting digitally on Tuesday, “JFK: Destiny Betrayed” is not for entry-level students of one of the most scrutinized tragedies in American history. Stone expects the viewer to hit the ground running with him as he casts a wide net that not only covers the assassination, the immediate aftermath and subsequent hearings, commissions, reports and revelations about the event, but also takes a deep dive into the global politics of the time. According to the series, it was Kennedy’s foreign policies, in particular his anti-colonial convictions, that created chasms between him, the Eisenhower administration, the Pentagon and the CIA. Along the way on this journey, we take detours covering the Congo’s liberation from Belgium; multiple attempted assassinations of French President Charles de Gaulle, and the suspicious plane crash fatality of Dag Hammarskjöld, secretary-general of the United Nations.
It’s easy for the viewer to get lost in the weeds during some of these passages, but on balance, “Destiny Betrayed” makes for compelling television, whether we’re revisiting footage and photos and findings we’ve seen many times before or learning about yet another relatively unexplored piece of evidence pointing to alleged corruption and cover-ups. With Whoopi Goldberg alternating narration duties with Donald Sutherland (who appeared in “JFK” as the mysterious “Mr. X”), the series is divided into quadrants:
- Chapter 1: Stone appears on camera at Dealey Plaza and tells us about the Assassination Records Review Board, which was created by an act of Congress following the firestorm of controversy created by his film “JFK.” We’re told Robert F. Kennedy immediately suspected the assassination was orchestrated by the CIA, the Mafia and anti-Castro exiles. As for the Warren Commission: What was Allen Dulles doing there? Dulles, who had been fired as director of the CIA by JFK, reportedly worked tirelessly to make sure the commission would find Oswald acted alone.
- Chapter 2 focuses on anomalies in the medical evidence and glaring problems with the chain of custody for both Oswald’s rifle and the so-called “magic bullet.” There’s also speculation about whether the mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago is the real murder weapon.
- In Chapter 3, “Destiny Betrayed” continues scrutiny on the autopsy, sometimes in rather grisly fashion when the talk turns to skull fragments and brain tissue and exit wounds. Rear Admiral George C. Burkley, Kennedy’s personal physician who signed the death certificate, in later years claimed he had “information … others besides Oswald must have participated.” We’re also told the Secret Service inexplicably washed out parts of the presidential limousine before shipping it to Washington, D.C., in the process removing brain, blood and tissue evidence. (Stone also can’t resist inserting a scene from “JFK” into the proceedings, with Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison delivering closing arguments and saying, “The truth often poses a threat to power, and one often has to fight power at great risks to themselves.”)
- With Chapter 4, we pivot to a profile of Lee Harvey Oswald, the U.S. Marine veteran who in 1959 defected to the Soviet Union, eventually returning to the States in 1961. The narrative loses momentum as “Destiny Betrayed” rehashes allegations about Oswald’s time in New Orleans and his connections to the likes of Clay Shaw and Dean Andrews — story threads already explored in “JFK.” In the final passage, titled “Consequences,” we’re reminded, as narrator Sutherland puts it, “Our overwhelming disbelief in the Warren Commission’s findings contributed to increased skepticism of all our foundational beliefs about government.”
On that, we can all agree.