After the brief but colorful period of wishful societal breakdown known as the 1960’s (a period of self-aggrandizing radicalism shamelessly extended for the convenience of nostalgic longings for the heyday of hippies, communal roach clip sharing and the punishable-by-death overuse of the word “man”, when, in actuality, except for 1968-69, the decade was characterized more by Beach Blanket Annette, the Beatles, Doris Day and hillbillies in Beverly Hills than the Manson Family, Iceberg Slim and Abbie Hoffman), Hollywood films found themselves in a sudden but precarious creative flux: one in which daring film makers were allowed to pursue a more realistic and pessimistic vision of America (firmly grounded in cynicism) but one also mindful of the caprices that are the economic realities of an art form steeped in the nature of a commercial enterprise, an economic consideration in constant conflict with purely artistic endeavors.
“Executive Action” is the inevitable cinematic progeny of a growing American preoccupation with subversive conspiracy as a psychological curative to explain away national traumas as anything as remotely banal as random chance, eccentric psychopathy or simply the uncomfortable reminder that evil does exist within certain people, since there seems to be a peculiar comfort in the concept of murderous behavior derived from an organizational stratagem rather than by the violent impulses of the lone wolf. Since neither is controllable (as the results are the same) by either the collective will of society nor law enforcement (whose role emerges, as is usual in most cases of homicidal intent, in the collection of evidence rather than prevention of the act) there appears to be an advancing cultural reassurance in the concept of such anarchic actions resulting from cold deliberation rather than irrational impulse, therefore preserving the tenuous glue of society from the very possibility of falling into the scarifying abyss of absolute chaos. This dichotomy of cultural differences in how European and American political assassinations find a germanative agar is explicitly cited in the film, though a clue as to the screenplay’s faulty scholarship finds disclosure when John Wilkes Booth is included in the list of lone “madmen” as opposed to being part of a greater- well documented -conspiracy to usurp the government.
The film, with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo from a story by Donald Freed and Mark Lane, travels beyond a criticism of the findings of the Warren Commission (suspicions Lane clearly delineated in his 1966 tome Rush to Judgment whose skepticism was based in the scrupulously documented lax methodology of the Commission’s investigation more than indulging in alternative theories to the crime) and into a speculative account of what may have led to the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, though from the beginning of the film it is clear that beyond a general critical assessment of the usual suspects earmarked for an evaluative report card, attention to a film of this nature must also include serious questions raised as to the specific conception of the production: just how was the alternate scenario arrived at and is it adherent to the only available path led to by the complete evidence in the case?
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