Customer Reviews: Executive Action
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on June 23, 2004
Executive Action is about the conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. The title refers to covert organizations' euphemism for selected killings. Distinctions are important because EA does not try to prove that a deadly plot existed. EA is ABOUT the conspiracy itself! The pace is slow and chillingly deliberate. The film is totally free of excess and editorial. The conspirators are so calm, the dialog so matter of fact that the viewer could almost be eavesdropping on casual conversation between friends. Their motivation lay in Kennedy s failure to fully support the Bay of Pigs invasion, a nuclear treaty with Russia and his support of Civil Rights. Then there is Topic # 1-J.F.K.s apparent (!) intention to begin withdrawing troops from Vietnam in 1965. Profits decline in peacetime! Two veteran actors, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster are the right wing fanatics who decide to take "executive action" against the President. Both are excellent, especially the cynical Ryan. It is their calm "everyone is expendable" iciness that bites to the bone. They have "Done this Before". To them there is no difference between eliminating JFK or dispatching a troublesome Third World dictator. These string-pullers calmly put together a hit team as casually as forming a new finance department. There are two significant details: 1) there were not 1 but 3 shooters in Dallas that day and 2) the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald is treated as an unplanned afterthought. A strong point is the intermingling of historical documentary form the early 60s, which gives EA body and context. A weak point is the supporting cast. The supposedly professional assassins look liked they were drafted from the company softball team. The role of strip club owner Jack Ruby would be laughable if he had not been so important in real life. EA is a first rate low key film that failed to win recognition when it was first released. Conspiracy fans and conspiracy haters alike are encouraged to watch EA. Those who can't learn anything will at least be entertained. A final thought. EA would have been ideal for a black and white format. It's curious the producers chose to colorize such a somber film.
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on October 12, 1999
Before Oliver Stone's masterpiece, "JFK," there was this small film named "Executive Action" which also makes a case for shadowy forces behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though not as thought-provoking and powerful as "JFK," "Executive Action" is a great piece of controversial film. The point here is not to inform the audience with a load full of dialogue and information, but to make the audience think with a staging of events that suggest a conspiracy behind the dark deed. We get some great performances and cross cutting of actual footage with live footage. I guess you could call this "A small triumph." "Executive Action" never gets boring and always keeps the viewer interested in what's going on. With scenes of just dialogue, you watch in intrigue. This isn't a "masterpiece," but "Executive Action" is a pretty good, intriguing, thought-provoking film that I think, many people should think. I highly recommend it.
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on June 10, 2001
I'm glad to see this film getting a positive response on the internet, which suggests among the public in general. The producers intended it as a filmic rebuttal to the Warren Report, handing out printed pamphlets to theater-goers of the time, suggesting what they could do to counter the cover-up. Unfortunately, coming at the height of the Vietnam pull-out and Watergate, the appeal got lost in the welter of events. Needless to say, the movie got almost no publicity from the media except what could be privately purchased, which except for a few major cities was not much. Moreover, establishment critics either panned the film or ignored it totally. (Leonard Maltin's shameless travesty being an example of the former.) The movie itself features such veterans of principled Hollywood liberalism as Robert Ryan, Burt Lancaster, and John Anderson, and blacklistees like Will Geer and the writer Dalton Trumbo. People with a grudge? Perhaps, but also insiders able to take the evidence and think outside the box.

Besides dramatizing events in fascinating fashion, the film's script handles two important points well. First, the assassination is clearly presented in historical context, such that the viewer has a clear idea from Kennedy's own words the kind of threat his emerging policies posed to entrenched domestic and foreign policy interests. Too often, the killing is either wrenched from this vital context or diverted into other contexts less threatening to what Eisenhower aptly termed the military-industrial complex. Second, the film concentrates on the string-pullers and experienced assassination teams, not on the details of the coverup itself. Concentrating on the latter would risk credibility should this or that detail be disproven. Thus the script takes no position, for example, on to what extent security agencies of the government were or were not involved, although it's pretty clear that some would have to have been compromised.

Certainly Oliver Stone's "JFK" improves on "Executive Action" from a number of standpoints and is a more valuable resource for examining the evidence. Still, the two do complement one another in that each examines different, yet related, aspects of the same crime. And if the latter film is arguably the more conjectural of the two, this is no embarassment since together they are more credible than anything the government has presented, (except for the belated and limited admission by the House Committee on Assassinations that the President was killed by more than one person). Perhaps "Executive Action" will never be the call to action it hoped to be. Still, it does deserve a modest place in that noble tradition of public eye-openers.
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on September 28, 2001
Executive Action is a stark, low budget docudrama about the assasination of John F. Kennedy. We watch as a cabal of old, rich white man plot the death of JFK and, in a starkly matter-of-fact way, the film details how they pulled it off. As opposed to Oliver Stone's later JFK, Executive Action goes to great pains to remain a rather cold recreation. Though this makes the film far more somber than Stone's, it also makes for a far more persuasive case. By not sensationalizing or resorting to emotional trickey, Executive Action forces you to consider the evidence for a conspiracy and, even if you're a skeptic like me, by the end of this film, you have to admit that there is a great deal of credible, if circumstancial, evidence to support the idea of a conspiracy. The conspirators, themselves, are deliberately kept obscure. We learn little about their backgrounds or individual personalities and, while some might complain that Executive Action doesn't contain any performances as crazed as say Joe Pesci in Stone's film, it actually works to help Executive Action avoid the hysterically paranoid feeling that Stone wallowed in. Whereas I think JFK ultimately caused more people to dismiss the idea of a conspiracy than accept it, Executive Action is powerfully persuasive. Every effort has been made to maintain a sense of realism. As well, Executive Action features the final performance of the great Robert Ryan. Though, unlike co-star Burt Lancaster, Ryan's become somewhat forgotten today, he was one of the braver movie actors working in the Hollywood of the '40s and '50s. He was a committed activist who was willing to take chances with his films if he believed in the message. Its obvious that this was a project that both he and Lancaster felt very deeply about and there's something gratifying in the fact that both of these very missed actors managed to create a message movie that actually manages to persuasively argue for its message. Lancaster and Ryan were represenatives of a courage that doesn't seem to have survived in today's Hollywood and, whether you agree with them or not, its hard not to respect the body of work they fought so hard to create.
I have to admit that I've never been a big believer in conspiracy theories. I've never believed there were aliens hidden away in government hangars, never feared the Trialateral Commission, and I've always thought that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Call me a skeptic but I've always felt that conspiracy theories draw their strength from people being too frightened to accept that on the whole, we're all at the mercy of random fate. That being said, let me also admit that if any film could convince me to reexamine my disbelief, it would have to be Executive Action.
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on May 16, 2000
Never mind Maltin's comments above, this is a skillfully crafted film, with fine understated performances and a brilliant, haunting score.
Compared with ``JFK'', this is a far more plausible and chilling presentation. These are not whackos, but ordinary business people and professionals, ``trained and reliable'', as Burt Lancaster says; not New Orleans right wing homosexual looneys. Everyone here acts in what they believe is the best interest of the country; granted, a very whacked out fascist vision, in which killing off our excess population of ``poverty-prone whites'' is rational. But everyone involved is efficient and intelligent.
Aside from a political drama, the movie excels at working in the facts of the case as well, particularly the relationship of the government with Oswald and the unbelievable, but true, mis-handling of the protection of the president (not that any improvements have apparently been made, unless someone can explain how a hooded Manson family member managed to stick a 45 into Jerry Ford's gut). Yes, some of the ``facts'' are false, particularly the time-worn legend of the D.C. phone system being out of order, but in the main the movie sucessfully blends fiction and reality.
The overall tone of the movie is very respectful of the weight of the matter, on both sides. Even the conspirators view the assasination solemnly, and the score and film clips work together to leave a feeling of sadness and waste. If this fictional world was really true, then we know the conspirators failed to fulfill their vision of the world as much as Kennedy failed in his.
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on May 11, 2000
I almost didn't watch this movie when I saw Leonard Maltin had rated it a "Bomb," but I'm glad I did. I agree that the pace early on could have been quicker, but overall the movie presented its theory pretty well.
While JFK was a mystery investigating a murder, this is a step-by-step recreation of how the crime might have happened. I'm not a conspiracy buff, and I felt this film presented some of the theories more clearly than did JFK, and seemed to make a better attempt at staying historically accurate.
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This intelligent film features and examines carefully the possible causes for the assassination of J.F.K. through a meticulous reconstruction of the previous months the abominable murder . The presence of two mercurial actors such as Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster imposes the film and additional reason to watch it . Based on Mark Lane's book Rush to judgement.

One additional point: It is not fair at all to make a match with JFK . This a well documented and even stylized film which only pretends give some clues , while JFK is a dramatic reconstruction more exhaustive . Both films are indispensable for your collection.
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on February 20, 2002
The first film to challenge the Warren Commission's "lone gunman" theory about the Kennedy assassination, EXECUTIVE ACTION, although overlooked and overshadowed by Oliver Stone's later 1991 epic JFK, is an equally substantive film about how people in high places can destroy a man of peace and help to wreck a nation with their obsessions with war and murder.
Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Will Geer portray a cabal of right-wing businessmen clearly concerned about what Kennedy might do with respect to the Cold War and our involvement in Vietnam if he is re-elected in 1964. The film concerns itself with the assassination teams that these men manage to assemble that will end up being at that appointed place of destiny, Dealey Plaza in Dallas at 12:30 PM Central Time on November 22, 1963.
Though much less flashy than Stone's film, EXECUTIVE ACTION, directed by David Miller (LONELY ARE THE BRAVE), and scripted by former blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo from Mark Lane's book "Rush To Judgement", has its own style of credibility. Lancaster and Ryan (the latter in one of his final films), known for their liberal politics, give extremely convincing and low-key portrayals of the right-wing businessmen at the center of this film's conspiracy theory. Talk about the chilling banality of evil.
EXECUTIVE ACTION is not a very easy film to find; and like JFK, it blows holes big enough into the Warren Commission report to drive a truck through and make apologists like Gerald Posner absolutely apoplectic. If you can find it, however, it makes for an extremely worthy film, both on its own and in tandem with JFK.
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on December 15, 1999
This "Movie" is much more than a look at Burt Lancaster in one of his many roles. This is a look into the probable cause of JFK's death, long before the much tauted "JFK" flick. After you see this film, you will have a clue as to how the Government works behind the scenes. I would also recommend the film "The Men that Killed Kennedy" by A&E network.
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on April 2, 2004
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