Killing Kennedy

2013-11-10_2352The biggest surprise about Killing Kennedy is that there are no surprises.

In this National Geographic dramatisation, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy with three clean shots from the Book Depository.

By now this saga is so well entrenched in modern history that you could be forgiven for expecting something new on history’s ultimate conspiracy. But this telemovie is based on a book, Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.

It straddles two narratives centered around Oswald and Kennedy until both eventually collide on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963.

Kennedy is portrayed as the good guy by Rob Lowe, while Oswald is the tortured baddie, played by Will Rothhaar.

Oswald is depicted as a disillusioned citizen, who visits the United States Embassy in Moscow and attempts to renounce his U.S. citizenship because he believes in Communism. Here he also meets his future wife Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg) at a dance hall in Minsk before both relocate to the US.

Kennedy is the newly-installed representative of optimism and devoted husband to Jackie (Ginnifer Goodwin). His actions during the Cuban missile crisis rile the already-angry Oswald, who plots to shoot him during a Texan motorcade.

Much of the drama is devoted to Oswald as an outcast, suffering marital problems and having few friends. He sees his moment in history as a chance to seize control of his life.

We meet Kennedy as he pitches for the White House, ably guided by brother Robert (Jack Noseworthy). He is a quiet man of principle, with Jackie at his side. This most-perfect President enjoys listening to the cast recording of Camelot, leading the affairs of the nation and supporting his wife after losing a baby prematurely. There’s a fleeting hint of Kennedy’s extra-marital affairs.

The setting and recreation of the 1960s era is authentic. Newsreel footage is interspersed with dramatisations. The Book Depository scenes, easily the most recognisable, look like the real thing.

Will Rothhaar makes for a convincingly unsettled Oswald, eventually taken down by Jack Ruby (Casey Siemaszko). Rob Lowe captures Kennedy’s Massachusetts’accent and never overplays a role that is steeped in the man’s best points.

But the script reads like a case-study in American history, never offering doubt or alternatives about what might have been. Unlike the Oliver Stone feature, there are no shades of grey here. Despite the production values, the sum total had me feeling like I had seen it all before.

Killing Kennedy may be well-intentioned, but it’s also a lost opportunity.

Killing Kennedy airs 7:30pm Tuesday November 19 on Nat Geo.


  1. O’Reilly also wrote “Killing Lincoln”, which made for a pretty good dramatisation. As Jon Stewart joked when Bill was a guest on his show, “What’s next? Killing Jesus?”.

  2. carolemorrissey

    Bill O’Reilly. Say no more. Judging from what friends of mine who live in the US say about him, his their version of Andrew Bolt. Can’t watch it anyway, don’t have Foxtel.

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