IT'S IMPORTANT to remember that ''JFK'' is a very personal interpretation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is personal on the part of Oliver Stone, who co-wrote the script and directed the film, and it is very personal on the part of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who succeeded in bringing Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman, to trial for taking part in the ''conspiracy.''
Beyond the bias, however, ''JFK'' is a riveting film, one that holds the viewer for its three hours and five minutes of running time. It will be especially interesting to those who lived through those horrifying times. It should also be interesting to those who are too young to know much about the assassination.
Based on Garrison's book, ''On the Trail of the Assassins,'' and ''Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy,'' by Jim Marrs, the new film very definitely charges that Kennedy was killed by a group of conspirators who were part of the military-industrial complex. They wanted the Vietnam war to continue and intensify. Kennedy, the film says, was planning to withdraw our troops from that country.
Garrison and Stone also charge that Lee Harvey Oswald did not even fire at Kennedy, that he was only a patsy, set up by others, some 12 men who took part in the planning and execution of the crime.
Stone and Garrison go over some very familiar territory. They charge that Oswald and Jack Ruby, the man who killed him, had known each other. They also remind us that many of the witnesses to the crime died under curious circumstance.
Garrison's story was widely disregarded at the time of the Shaw trial and is still not all that believable. If Garrison insists that so many of the witnesses were murdered to silence them, why wasn't he murdered? And if 12 men took part in the actual killing, why hasn't one of them blabbed?
Interesting questions and an interesting film, even if much of the ''evidence'' is stacked. What the film doesn't mention is that Garrison was accused of coercing and bribing some of his
witnesses in the Shaw trial, one of the reasons the trial was settled so quickly in Shaw's favor.
One of the more interesting things about the film is the courtroom demonstration of the ''magic bullet'' theory, one that points up the unlikelihood that only three bullets were fired at Kennedy in six seconds.
Another interesting thing about the script is that it charges that the assassination was carried out by members of the military-industrial community with the cooperation of Lyndon Johnson.
Controversy aside, ''JFK'' is remarkable film making. Using a form that is frequently documentary in nature, Stone occasionally uses stock footage that is so cleverly mixed with new that it's sometimes difficult to know where one begins and the other stops.
The man who did ''Platoon,'' controversial in its own way, has managed to fashion a well-cut, realistically staged drama whose cast is almost as interesting as the material itself.
Kevin Costner is Garrison, Sissy Spacek is his wife, Tommy Lee Jones is Shaw, Michael Rooker is an assistant D.A. in New Orleans, Ed Asner is a retired FBI man who is apparently in on the conspiracy, and Joe Pesci is David Ferrie, one of the many eccentrics who, Garrison charges, were part of this conspiracy.
Brian Doyle Murray is Ruby, Jack Lemmon is a private eye, Donald Sutherland is a former Army officer who supports the Garrison theory, Kevin Bacon is a male prostitute who knew Shaw, and Walter Matthau is Senator Russell Long of Louisiana.
John Candy is an attorney who may know more than he admits, Sally Kirkland is a Cuban woman who warns of the assassination, and in a very nervy bit of casting, Garrison plays Chief Justice Earl Warren.
''JFK'' charges that federal agencies and the media were all in on this ''conspiracy.'' You are free to take all this or leave it behind. You may depart, however, thinking new thoughts on this awesome chapter in American history.
''JFK'' was filmed on many of the Dallas locations where the president's murder took place, Dealey Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository from which Oswald supposedly fired his gun, the police headquarters where Ruby killed Oswald, the movie theater where Oswald was arrested and the boarding house to which he returned after the assassination.
All this lends a terrible authenticity to the dramatics. ''JFK'' opens here today.
**** The assassination of John F. Kennedy, as seen by writer-director Oliver Stone and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.
CAST: Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Rooker, Ed Asner, Joe Pesci, Brian Doyle Murray, Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Sally Kirkland, John Candy, Jim Garrison, Vincent D'Onofrio
DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone
RATING: R (language, violence)
) RUNNING TIME: 185 minutes