Saturday, 26 October 2019

Movie Review: Executive Action (1973)


A conspiracy drama, Executive Action offers an alternative plot for the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It's early in 1963, and a group of powerful men including Robert Foster (Robert Ryan) and black ops organizer James Farrington (Burt Lancaster) are convinced the Kennedys are planning a ruinous multi-term dynasty. They ask influential industrialist Harold Ferguson (Will Geer) to support an assassination plot already under preparation. Foster predicts the President will soon seek a nuclear disarmament treaty with the USSR; support the black civil rights movements; and pull troops out of Vietnam, all actions considered damaging to the plotters' interests.

Ferguson is sceptical, but Farrington and Foster continue with the arrangements. Three-man sniper hit squads are trained to shoot at a slow moving target, and Lee Harvey Oswald, a troubled ex-Marine with a shadowy history including a stint in Moscow, is unknowingly selected and groomed as a convenient fall guy. When JFK's trip to Dallas is announced, the plotters influence the parade route to include the perfect kill zone. In the meantime Kennedy does announce the policy initiatives predicted by Foster, convincing Ferguson to throw his weight behind the plot.

Eighteen years before the much more famous JFK, the modestly budgeted and independently produced Executive Action pitched a fuzzy conspiracy theory as an explanation for the presidential assassination. Written by Dalton Trumbo and featuring one of Robert Ryan's final career performance, the film does not pretend to bring any new facts to the debate; this is just a hypothesis, cobbling together a vague cause and possible methodology.

Director David Miller mixes documentary footage from Kennedy's final few months with the fictional narrative of Foster and Farrington spearheading operational readiness and Ferguson gradually gaining conviction that Kennedy needs to be eliminated. The shooting in Dealey Plaza is recreated as a triangulated kill zone with multiple trained snipers firing at the President in his motorcade.

Other than as a curiosity, not much of Executive Action gains traction. Despite the presence of stars Burt Lancaster, Ryan and Will Geer, the conspirators are barely introduced and remain plastic puppet masters devoid of background and context. Too much time is invested in the efforts to entrap Oswald as a fall guy, and no theory is suggested to explain how a well funded plot involving seemingly limitless resources and dozens of operatives (including Ed Lauter as a grim-faced kill squad team leader) could be kept secret. The evildoers openly and confidently discuss their plans, leaving the impression JFK himself was the only man not to know he was about to be a target.

And the final third of the film loses all narrative momentum. After the shooting the lead conspirators are relegated to standing around and watching television like the rest of the country, as Oswald is arrested then killed by Jack Ruby, here introduced in a botched hurry. Executive Action becomes a rerun of well-known events stitched together with little added value, a cinematic hypothesis rejected due to truncated imagination.






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