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Picks and Pans Review: JFK: Reckless Youth

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ABC (Sun., Nov. 21, 9 p.m. ET)

B

This miniseries, based on Nigel Hamilton’s biography of the assassinated President, unfolds not unlike Shakespeare’s Henry V: After years of sowing his wild oats with abandon, our noble hero transforms himself overnight into a valiant leader.

The film’s dominant theme is established in the opening scene, in which we see young Jack (Patrick Dempsey) sneak out of a hospital to literally put on the Ritz (or at least go there). It seems that the formative years of the man who would be President were an endless round of sickbeds and swellegant affairs. The crucible that changes JFK from an inveterate prankster and skirt-chaser into the prince of American politics is World War II—specifically the sinking of his PT boat in the Pacific and the death of his groomed-for-success older brother, Joe. The story ends (on Tuesday) with Jack’s first congressional campaign, which allowed him to emerge from the domineering shadow cast by his father. Terry Kinney plays the Kennedy patriarch, the browbeating Joe Sr. (with a Boston accent that at times sounds more like Walter Brennan’s).

It’s a burnished if at times banal bio, elevated by lavish and convincing period detail and Dempsey’s roguishly energetic sally through the role. The mini loses much of its wattage on the second night, but Dempsey looks smart in a Navy uniform.