THE TV MOVIE "Killing Kennedy"
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on NatGeo
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Based on Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's 2012 bestseller, this casts Rob Lowe as John F. Kennedy, as he enters the campaign for president in 1960. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothhaar) is rapidly shedding his enthusiasm for Soviet-style Marxism in a Minsk factory. Later, as Kennedy and Jacqueline (Ginnifer Goodwin) enjoy public triumph (the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and private grief (the death of a baby), Oswald is in Texas, with wife Marina (Michelle Trachtenberg) and a baby. He buys a rifle. You know how this story ends.
MY SAY Among many JFK-related programs over the next two weeks, only Nat Geo had the guts to render the tragic days leading up to Nov. 22, 1963, in docudrama form. But with Ridley Scott (whose company produced) and O'Reilly (as executive producer) on board, that's probably to be expected: These two guys aren't known for cowering under desks.
Yet something got lost from the page -- O'Reilly and Dugard know how to set down prose that forces the rapid turning of those things -- to the screen. Even guts can't quite rescue this. Not that "Killing Kennedy" is bad -- it's not -- but the whole film feels like it's been staged in a small box as opposed to a world stage where seemingly minor events would assume such tragic consequence and reverberate to this day. Instead, "Killing Kennedy" is cramped and confined: a small-bore docudrama that tells us everything we already knew anyway.
Moreover, Lowe, a good actor, nevertheless can't quite pull off the illusion that needs to be pulled off here -- that JFK is not being impersonated by someone who looks and sounds like Rob Lowe. He's a relatively small part of this story, anyway. Most screen-time goes to Rothhaar's Oswald -- a petulant dweeb who's as menacing as a Starbuck's clerk. Rothhaar can't even begin to capture the Oswald of popular imagination -- a monster with a smirk and a snarl. (But then, who could?)
BOTTOM LINE The even larger issue is familiarity. We already know too much and paradoxically too little about the JFK assassination. A TV movie needed to tell us something we don't know. No dice here.