by Francis Friel, The Projectionist
Oliver Stone's JFK is all a lie. I don't mean the overall theme of the piece, or even any one individual element of the whole. It's a question of character. Everyone in the film is operating under false pretenses (even, at least as far as wrangling public perception to achieve his goals, Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner). In compiling evidence of a conspiracy to murder the president, Stone throws in every known theory on record, streamlines them all into a cohesive narrative, and outlines them using the book by the real-life Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins.
But throughout, Stone gives us zero characters who we can totally trust. Garrison's role, as the chief (and only) investigator into the assassination, is to build a case against a couple of local figures who are tied to organized crime and have been outed as CIA assets. Their connections to a number of underworld characters and plots circling the killing will let him show that if indeed there were multiple people involved in the plotting and planning of the murder, then that proves that Oswald couldn't have acted alone and that the Warren Commission lied.
The Commission Report, the biggest lie of all, is impossible to refute without interviewing eye-witnesses and trying to dig up some version of the truth. What sets this path up is a preliminary round of interrogations of some possible Oswald-associates. The first big one the movie presents is the questioning of David Ferrie.
Ferrie, as played by Joe Pesci, is introduced as a "first-rate pilot" who can "get in and out of any field, no matter how small." Looking like a caricature of a "man," he walks into Garrison's office wearing a bad toupee pulled too far down over his forehead, huge painted-on eyebrows, messy foundation and a borderline-David-Byrne-looking suit. He's both too big and too small to fit in the room, and when he asks Garrison if he remembers him from when they met years ago, of course Garrison replies that yes, he remembers him, as he makes "quite a first impression."
But this first impression is deliberately over the top. Getting in and out of any field, no matter how small, is of course a set up that he'll come out on top of in this interrogation, or it would be in any other movie. But having Garrison say this line to him is meant to show that he knows what Ferrie thinks of himself, and Garrison is fully prepared to outwit him.
With every question thrown at Pesci, Costner knocks his answer down and buries it. Feeding him what he knows his cover story is supposed to be for a strange trip he took to Texas in the days following the assassination, the scene plays out like an anti-Usual Suspects, with the "good guy" unraveling the "bad guy's" story by supplying it for him before telling him he knows every step of the way that it's complete bullshit.
Pesci sits and sweats, nervously plays with his lighter, and looks around the room for some form of help that will never come. Adjusting his toupee, rubbing his forehead with his fingers, and smiling way too much, everything he does in the room is a tell. He's a bad liar. It's almost too easy. This is also setting up the later questioning of Kevin Bacon and Tommy Lee Jones in the film, who answer all the questions honestly (sort of) and set up the first big stumbling blocks to the case. Specifically: if all these guys are telling the truth, but that truth is ultimately self-serving and meaningless, then maybe there isn't a larger truth to be found. Eventually, this is resolved through the Tommy Lee Jones character leading into the actual trial that ends the film. But in the first Pesci sequence, it seems like it will be smooth sailing.
And of course, it sets up the best line of the movie. After Garrison tells Ferrie he'll need to be detained for further questioning by the FBI, Ferrie asks why, and Garrison replies "I find your story simply not believable." Ferrie, looking genuinely confused, responds: "What part?"