The JFK Assassination Conspiracy Industrial Complex won’t care for “Truth is the Only Client: The Official Investigation of the Murder of John F. Kennedy.”
Then again, will anybody watch a documentary defending the Warren Commission’s findings about the Kennedy Assassination? If there’s one thing the thousands of books, films and TV series and specials have made clear, it’s that the money’s in “conspiracy.” Even a film with the prosecutorial thoroughness of “Truth is the Only Client” will leave those deep down the rabbit hole unconvinced. They’ve been running with “alternate facts” too long to quit now.
I’ve gone back and forth on this subject, like many of us, swayed by this “revelation,” convinced by that recreation. It’s so omnipresent that the Kennedy Assassination has become a cultural punchline, doubt sewn by “Seinfeld” even as we laugh at the conspiracy nut archetype in Richard Linklater’s “Slacker.”
This film is an outgrowth of a touring lecture series run by former Commission counsel Judge Burt W. Griffin and his protege, Judge Brendan Beehan. Their access to surviving members of the legal staff involved in the investigation, to the survivors among those investigated as material witnesses to the murder and to staff of the 1970s House Select Committee on Assassinations allows them to make a convincing case for the Warren Commission’s successes and the slip-ups Chief Justice Earl Warren and others that allowed oxygen into the firestorm of conspiracies that followed the report’s release.
Manson Family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi is also here, as a legal eagle who staged a famous mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald in the ’80s, which utterly convinced him that “no credible evidence has surfaced” that contradicts the Warren Commission in the 57 years since JFK’s murder. His assertion, that “the reality” of the mundane nature of the “unstable…lone gunman” assassination simply didn’t fit what people want to believe about this sensational, epoch-altering crime, is the guiding mission statement of “Truth is the Only Client.”
“It’s not Shakespearean.”
Dissecting the Warren Commission’s makeup and history, from the first call to Bill Moyers at the White House (by Yale Law School Dean Eugene Rostow) the weekend of the assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder pitching the need for such a commission, on through those questioned, is fascinating in an of itself. You don’t need the conspiracy-backing slant for to be engrossed in this.
So, from Soviet involvement to mob planning to the “Magic bullet theory,” from The Grassy Knoll to the shooting of Officer Tibbets and mob-connected Jack Ruby’s shooting of Oswald, the film thoroughly explains the Warren Commission’s findings and its wariness of what it might learn from the FBI and CIA, which had their own agendas in the paranoid days, weeks and months following the assassination.
What I found most interesting was getting at the places where Warren himself screwed up — hiding the Kennedy autopsy photos — the leeriness of anybody wanting help from the notorious Dallas Police Department — and the efforts by the CIA and the FBI to cover their own screw-ups which allowed Oswald’s obsession to bear fruit.
Most Americans still don’t believe the Commission’s conclusions. A convincing TV series like the British-made “The Men who Killed Kennedy” from the ’80s, or Oliver Stone’s red herring-loaded “JFK” can have a lasting impact.
When a film sets out to address much of what conspiracy buffs have used to build their house of cards, it will leave some facts out. Evidence of things “concealed” from the Warren Commission might not help the investigation’s credibility. The House Select Committee, leaning heavily on a scratchy, misinterpreted police motorcycle radio recording of the shooting, didn’t help.
But as “Truth” shows, there was no “magic” bullet, nobody saw anyone shooting from The Grassy Knoll, and I might add, the three shots fired were replicated, from the Book Depository window, for a CBS Special hosted by Dan Rather decades ago (NOT impossible).
The film’s host/narrator, Beehan, may go overboard in his suggestions that “the system worked” in spite of evidence that shows the mistrust in government spawned by the Commission’s thorough, seemingly transparent but apparently not as thorough as they claimed and not transparent enough to not seem a “rush to judgement.”
But that doesn’t mean that “alternate facts” weren’t born in the pages of Mark Lane and other researchers’ truth-bending “investigations,” or that Oliver Stone didn’t do a grave disservice to the culture by celebrating New Orleans prosecutor/crackpot Jim Garrison.
MPA Rating: unrated, Zapruder Film violence
Cast: Vincent Bugliosi, Justice Stephen Breyer, Ruth Paine, Judge Burt W. Griffin, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, G. Robert Blakey, Howard P. Willens, narrated by Judge Brendan Beehan.
Running time: 2:20