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One PM Central Standard Time: Film Review

 One PM Central Standard Time still - H 2013
PBS

The Bottom Line

Doc revisits the Kennedy assassination without adding much insight.

Narrator

George Clooney

Director-producer

Alastair Layzell

Narrated by George Clooney, the documentary from director Alastair Layzell revists the John F. Kennedy assassination.

The 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination has led to new books and films in addition to the massive amount of material already produced about this seminal, traumatic event. The latest installment in the ongoing saga is a new documentary, One PM Central Standard Time, which will have a brief theatrical run before inevitably finding a home on television. The film tries to distinguish itself from the pack of Kennedy assassination films by focusing on the role of Walter Cronkite, who memorably broke the news of the President’s death to many in the nation and whose participation in the story helped to cement his own rise to the position of America’s most revered television anchor. Even with this angle and with the marquee name of George Clooney as narrator, the film adds little to a very familiar tale.

Clooney’s interest in this part of the story is not surprising. He won acclaim for directing Good Night and Good Luck, his film about another pioneering TV journalist, Edward R. Murrow. The director of One PM, Alastair Layzell, tries to emphasize that the assassination was not just a seminal moment in American history but a day that marked a change in the nature of journalism. With Americans glued to the tube for almost four straight days, television permanently seized power from newspapers and magazines, and Cronkite soon became the dean of TV anchors. One intriguing tidbit recounted here is that just two months before the assassination, CBS expanded its nightly news program from 15 to 30 minutes. So the power of television journalism was on the rise, and Cronkite’s role during those four days in November helped to clinch this transformation.

The film depends on excellent interviews with other prominent television journalists — Brian Williams, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Robert MacNeil — as well as former President Clinton and several newspaper reporters. Some of these people actually covered the assassination in Dallas, including UPI reporter Wilborn Hampton, who helped to transmit the news that Cronkite utilized before making his famous on-air announcement that the President had died. Vivid newsreel footage of the fateful day in Dallas, along with other material showing JFK at home and abroad, enlivens the film.

Less successful is the decision to rely on re-enactments of scenes in the UPI newsroom as well as at CBS headquarters. Re-enactments have of course become a common technique in many documentaries, but this film revives questions about this dubious strategy.  While the sets and costumes are carefully reconstructed, the actors reciting the dialogue are uniformly poor.  Another of the film’s failings is its worshipful attitude toward both Cronkite and Kennedy. Even admirers of both men might not have been averse to a few criticisms. The Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s flawed Vietnam policy, for example, are never mentioned. The overbearing music is another drawback. Especially cringe-worthy is Michael Feinstein’s original composition, “And That’s the Way It Is,” played over the end titles. All in all, this competent recap of a potent story fails to discover enough fresh and vital material.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 1 (Colonial Films)

Narrator: George Clooney

Director-producer: Alastair Layzell

Drama director: Richard Dale

Executive producer: Steve Burns

Director of photography: Richard Hall

Set designer: Will Layzell

Editors: Richard Hall, Michael Weingrad

No rating, 89 minutes