How to tell the tragic story of the Kennedy assassination in a fresh way with a new angle. It’s with that skeptical eye that one enters Parkland, an eerily authentic recreation of the immediate aftermath of the event that altered the trajectory of the United States of America.
Two fresh takes come early in director Peter Landesman’s film.
First, while the Presidential motorcade makes it way through Dealey Plaza, we see Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) scurry to gain a high perch to film the approach. The camera stays on Zapruder as we hear the gun shots ring out, his reaction gradual once he realizes what he is actually filming. Once we see his now infamous footage, we only partially glimpse the assassination in the reflection of his glasses in a screening room with the Secret Service. Very effective. WARNING: I have linked up the Zapruder footage, it is graphic and hard to watch.
Second, once the news comes across the wire that Lee H. Oswald has been taken in to custody as the prime suspect, we see the reaction of Oswald’s brother (James Badge Dale) as his office colleagues surround him “Bob, is that your brother?”
Oswald didn’t just alter history, he ruined a lot of lives. But, this should be no news flash.
The writers did their research and the look of the picture is spot on.
This is not a conspiracy film. Thank God.
The casting is across the board strong. Standing out are David Harbour as the irate Dallas Police official with egg on his face, Marcia Gay Harden as Parkland Hospital’s shell-shocked head nurse on the scene, and Billy Bob Thornton doing his best G.D. Spradlin impersonation as the head of the Dallas Secret Service Bureau, Forrest Sorrels.
So, the nine million dollar questions:
Did Parkland need to be made?
Does it shed any new light on this event?
Is there a public craving for more examination of this tragedy?
If box office draw is a reasonable (fair?) way to gauge, the answer is a resounding no. Budgeted at $10m, it has grossed well under $1m to date and will surely not fare well overseas. No Jackie Chan, no Sly Stallone, and teen throb Zac Efron keeps his shirt on the entire film while playing a distraught resident surgeon unable to revive the dead President.
With the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination now in our rear view mirror, we Americans seem to be somberly secure in our collective appreciation for what might have been.
I think Landesman was attempting to say something profound in his triangular juxtaposition of Oswald’s lonely and ostracized funeral (“There are no pallbearers.”) with the news footage of a nation in mourning of Camelot fallen, and officer James Hosty’s (Ron Livingston) burying of incriminating evidence that Oswald had threatened him three weeks prior – set to Walter Cronkite’s familiar voice saying that “The larger question is…that few Americans will go to bed tonight without carrying the feeling that somehow they have failed” and that “John Fitzgerald Kennedy did not die in vain.”
I’m just not sure what it was.
Parkland ultimately ends up nothing more than yet another depressing reminder of how quickly things can change (see 9/11) and bright lights can be turned dim (see Newtown).