‘Truth is the Only Client: The Official Investigation of the Murder of John F. Kennedy’ Review
Having spent much of my life in Dallas, the tragic events of November 22, 1963 have always played a role in my identity as a Texan. President Kennedy’s assassination that day has carried the added burden of conspiracy theories and politicized commentary in addition to the devastating emotional toll it took on the citizens of the United States. In, Truth is the Only Client: The Official Investigation of the Murder of John F. Kennedy, co-directors Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman focus their attention on “The Warren Report,” the research conducted by the 7 appointed members of the committee, plus the affiliated attorneys and staff.
We see the archival clip of the Boston Symphony announcement of that day’s assassination, and the reaction of the live audience as the conductor reveals the “Funeral March” from Beethoven’s symphony is next up. It’s effective as a reminder of the gut-punch felt by the populace, before the filmmakers’ move towards a more analytical look at the findings by the commission. Vincent Bugliosi then informs us that it’s the greatest murder case in world history, and also the most complex. Bugliosi (now deceased) was the lead prosecutor in the Charles Manson case, and he also acted as the prosecutor in a 1986 televised mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald – an event which led Bugliosi to write a detailed 2007 book entitled Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F Kennedy.
Four surviving staff members affiliated with the Warren Commission are interviewed on camera, as are other experts, authors, historians, and investigators. The “star” witnesses are Ruth Hyde Paine and Robert Blakey. Ms. Paine was a friend of Marina Oswald, and owned the house where Marina lived at the time of the assassination. Mr. Blakey was Chief Counsel and Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations (1977-79), which investigated Kennedy’s death. Among the other key contributors included here are author Patricia Johnson McMillan (Marina and Lee), Kennedy expert Judge Brendan Sheehan, CIA historian David Robarge, and Sound/Acoustics investigator Steve Barber.
While acknowledging, and not shying away from, the numerous conspiracy theories that have been floated in regards to the assassination, it’s important to understand that the focus here is on the report filed by the Warren Commission. It could even be categorized as having the goal of proving its accuracy. It’s noted that Chief Justice Earl Warren directed everyone associated with the commission that, “your only client is the truth.” We are informed that the multitude of conspiracy theories have cumulatively accused 12 groups, 82 assassins, and hundreds of co-conspirators. The commission interviewed 552 witnesses, and those involved remain adamant that their research and work was neither tainted nor politicized.
A high-level history lesson is worked in between the interviews, often tying into the portion of the report being discussed. These segments include the assassination attempt on General Walker, Oswald’s pro-Castro work in New Orleans, the ‘grassy knoll,’ the pristine bullet, Jack Ruby (including some background on him), and of course, the Zapruder film…where the pertinent frames are analyzed. There is an interesting segment on the Police Audio and how it was remarkably released via Gallery Magazine (a publication for adults). Discussion of Operation Mongoose, the CIA plot to overthrow communism in Cuba, including the killing of Fidel Castro may or may not be news to viewers, and there is even mention of Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, JFK.
Included among those who have been accused of orchestrating the assassination are Cuba, the Soviet Union, organized crime, the FBI, and the CIA. Those involved specifically reference the cover-ups perpetrated by those latter two federal agencies. Did these hinder the investigations and impact the final report? Whether you subscribe to one or more of the conspiracy theories, one would be hard-pressed to not at least acknowledge that the citizenry’s distrust of government was amplified during this time, and nothing since has calmed the waters. Kwait and Stegman’s film is undoubtedly the best film breakdown of the Warren Report, though it’s unlikely to change the minds of those who prefer a conspiracy.