Any film based on the events surrounding the J.F.K. assassination has to be taken as conjecture but when this film here from director John MacKenzie hit the screens it did so in the long shadow cast by Oliver Stone’s film the previous year that had everyone’s tongue wagging about the many plots surrounding President Kennedy’s death.
While this film pales in comparison it does have a nice gangland flavor to it and it gives Danny Aiello a chance to play a leading role and he’s equal to the task. For the uninitiated, the title character Jack Ruby played here by Aiello is the man who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald who is the man that history says killed J.F.K.
The film picks up in 1962 where Aiello is running a small time strip club in Dallas. He soon meets up and develops a friendship with Sherilyn Fenn who becomes the clubs main attraction in the burlesque/stripping department. The plot makes Aiello out to be both a police informant and a fringe player in the mob. His gangland cronies soon call on him to do some business down in Cuba and on to Las Vegas where he ‘s finding himself seated at tables with the likes of Sam Giancana and other gangland names. It’s becomes evident that the mob is using Aiello strictly to procure Fenn’s services to sleep with the president and become a contact between the mob and the oval office. He knows he’s out of his league.
Aiello gets dumped back to his club in Dallas and before long Fenn rejoins him when she is no longer needed. The decisions have been made that will change the course of history when the Kennedy circus arrives in Dallas. With Amazing Grace playing over the soundtrack the re-enactment begins mixed with stock footage from the actual newscasts of the day.
While the film is intriguing up to this point and how Aiello’s Ruby fits into the backdrop the film loses it’s way over the last twenty minutes I felt due to the lack of convincing me what really would lead Ruby to kill Oswald.
Stepping back and looking at the film as entertainment it works overall if you know the characters and what history has told us about the various connections and who knew who at the time. Kennedy, Sinatra and Giancana and the supposed deals that may have been brokered.
Aiello and Fenn are in fine form and while not lovers in the film one almost wished they could be as they display some honest affection for each other and their screen chemistry works. Filling out the cast in various roles we have some mob muscle played quite effectively by Tobin Bell and Arliss Howard who we’re never quite sure about as he’s always toying with Aiello. Is he a mobster or C.I.A. Either way he poses a threat to Aiello.
Another well known “mobster” in film is Joe Viterelli. Here he plays Joe Valachi who was in real life a mafia soldier who went public and told the world of the mafia dealings he claimed to be involved in.
Director John MacKenzie has a flair for mob based films having already given us the British classic The Long Good Friday and a little known Charles Bronson film titled Act of Vengeance which was about labor unrest and assassination in the Pennsylvania coal mines also based on a true story like Ruby. According to IMDB, MacKenzie was to reteam here with Good Friday star Bob Hoskins playing Ruby but that fell apart when Hoskins was stuck on the long shoot of Hook.
For conspiracy fans and those that appreciate the always entertaining Danny Aiello.