REVIEW: JFK conspiracy drama ‘11.22.63’ is bizarre but compelling
Just after midday on November 22, 1963, incumbent US President John F. Kennedy was cut down in his prime by a sniper while traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas. The killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested later that day and assassinated later that same week, leaving many questions unanswered and a million conspiracy theories to develop.
It’s not difficult to understand the enduring disbelief of the official story of the murder of America’s young President, a popular Democrat who was at that time regarded as the hero who prevented war over the Cuban Missiles Crisis. Even 53 years later, people still dedicate their lives to conspiracy theories and doubt the official story that Oswald acted alone. The controversy is still interesting to this day. It’s probably the reason you clicked on this review, or why you’re interested in this show.
FOX’s daring new drama, 11.22.63, is from Star Wars director and producer JJ Abrams and stars the Academy Award-nominated James Franco. It taps into that continued obsession with JFK’s murder, but is it any good?
11.22.63 tells the story of Jake Epping (James Franco), a stuck-in-a-rut English teacher who is begged by old pal Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), to travel back in time and prevent the assassination of Kennedy. It sounds bizarre, and it is bizarre. Templeton happens to have a time travelling portal in the back of his diner, and walking through it will take you to 1960. He tells Epping he has been trying unsuccessfully to work out what really happened for years (every time a person steps back through the portal from the real world, their previous actions in that world reset) and is now dying. After a long night of convincing and one tantrum, Epping agrees to help his friend out by returning to the 1960s.
The 1960s is everything you hope it will be: colourful, fun and filled with nostalgic throwbacks. The show might make much more sense without the time travel as a simple period drama, but then Epping would probably have to be a private investigator from the 60s with whom it is hard to relate and care (like so many others). As it is, Franco plays the role of a slightly-out-of-his-depth outsider with the conviction we have come to expect.
As much as the cinematography is gorgeous, and the acting is good, 11.22.63 never shakes off a silly premise, and continued silly ideas – such as the passing of time in the real world being limited to two minutes and the past basically trying to attack Epping when he gets too close to a crucial point in the timeline. On the latter, I spent time trying to figure out why a crucial point in time had to relate to Kennedy. Every minute change that Epping is part of could be a crucial moment for someone – is the President’s life worth so much more than anyone else’s? Has this time portal appeared specifically so someone can go figure out what really happened to Kennedy? Why does Templeton care so much – and why on Earth would a reasonably sane chap like Epping agree so easily?
It seems pretty convenient such a ridiculous portal would appear in the workspace of a conspiracy nut and take entrants to the perfect time in which to investigate the place in time where they are interested, and then, upon losing the ability to investigate, an old friend would take but a night to decide to give up his life and continue the mission. It’s all very contrived, and requires a bit of settling down, gulping back a cup of tea and just accepting.
Once you do that, however, it’s actually kind of compelling.