Parkland (2013) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for bloody ER sequences, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale, Ron Livingston, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Jason Douglas, David Harbour, Jeremy Strong, Colin Hanks, Kat Steffens, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Duplass
Director: Peter Landesman
Screenplay: Peter Landesman
Review published October 17, 2013
Co-produced by Tom Hanks and Bill Paxton, among others, Parkland partially adapts the historical novel from famed author/attorney Vincent Bugliosi entitled, "Four Days in November", which dissects some of the lesser known events that occurred in Dallas on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, and the three days afterward. The title of the film comes from the name of the hospital in which Kennedy ended up dying in, Parkland Hospital in Dallas, as well as where his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald would go following his own shooting to subsequently die. We get the perspective of several people during these days, including the doctors and nurses at the hospital, the Secret Service agents, the FBI, the man who would film the most accurate record of the actual shooting, and the family of Oswald.
Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, Parkland is more of a 'companion piece' kind of film, certainly not the kind of film one would choose to watch without being intimately familiar with the Kennedy assassination. If you don't know the phrase 'Zapruder film' don't even bother to watch this one, as it assumes you know all about the events of the day, and only exists in order to fill in some interesting blanks often left out of the discussion on one of the most traumatic events in the history of the United States. As such, it is likely going to only appeal to Kennedy aficionados looking for a different take on a subject they are fascinated with. However, conspiracy theorists will probably be rattled that this film doesn't entertain many of the well-known theories (save for Lee Harvey Oswald's mother claiming her son was framed) on what happened to these various players, and will especially be driven a bit nutty by some of the possible inaccuracies that have been pointed out regarding the chain of events.
Perhaps the largest draw to the film other than the subject matter is its cast, though it should be noted that none of the fine cast are substantial box office draws. The one who comes closest to this might be Zac Efron (17 Again, High School Musical), but this is material that even his staunchest young female fans will likely stay away from, and they will be largely disappointed that he is only in a couple of scenes. In fact, none of the actors appear in more than perhaps 20% of the movie, so even fans of any of the other thespians in this fine ensemble will be restless if they are solely tuning in to see their favorite actors perform. As their characters are not really built up to any degree, the appearance of these stars is mostly to lend a certain marketability to the project, as there are few genuinely remarkable performances to be found in the film.
Like the film Bobby did similarly for the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, Parkland is a respectful, well-intentioned film for its subject matter, not sensationalized to get its point across, merely trying to offer up some additional stories that many may have wondered about but were never privy to in general discussions of the tragedy. First time writer-director Peter Landesman keeps the energy level low, which may test the attention-spans of many in the audience, as his style, which emphasizes a lot of roving cameras and close-ups, is so subdued that it plays almost like a detached, mood piece instead of an explosive series of events that rocked the world. While this is a sporadically interesting take on certain large ripples that emanated from the assassination, where Landesman falls short is in not offering up the backbone of a compelling narrative arc. It feels like a collection of deleted scenes cultivated out of a much more exciting and well-told JFK movie that we're never shown.
©2013 Vince Leo