Review: Parkland (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: The aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, told from the perspective of the people of Dallas, including the doctors that tried to save the president (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks), Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who infamously caught the assassination on 8mm film, the secret service, the FBI, and assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's family.
REVIEW: Despite being both born eighteen years after the assassination and being a Canadian, I've always thought of the JFK assassination as not only an American tragedy, but one that affected the whole world, with the ramifications of his killing impacting all of us to this day. Who knows what kind of world we'd live in if JFK (and RFK, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, or any of the other sixties leaders who were snuffed out by assassins) would have lived? Is it any wonder the JFK assassination, and everything around it continues to obsess many of us?
If you're like me, and are utterly fascinated by John F. Kennedy's life and legacy, PARKLAND is a film you'll appreciate. Coming off it's festival run (with it due to hit theatres for a short theatrical run next month before hitting DVD in November to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination) PARKLAND's been compared to the RFK assassination movie, BOBBY. To me, those comparisons pretty far off. While that was a goofy melodrama that turned the Robert Kennedy assassination into a kind of all-star soap opera, PARKLAND is focused on the event itself, and the immediate aftermath. Sure, there's plenty of drama, but it all comes from the terrible event it depicts, rather than a bunch of half-baked characters.
Director Peter Landesman, who also wrote the screenplay- based on Vincent Bugliosi's (HELTER SKELTER) book- is a former journalist, and it shows. PARKLAND's mandate is to show us what really happened during and after the assassination, and there's enough drama in the real events that Landesman didn't need to tack on any melodrama. It's journalistic, but it's absorbing.
Of course, some stories are better than the others. For me, the most gripping part of the film was the “Parkland gang” with the two doctors played by Zac Efron (in a very strong performance) and Colin Hanks, first having to try and save the president and then being forced to operate on Oswald after he's shot by Jack Ruby. There's a lot of fascinating stuff here, from Marcia Gay Harden's stoic nurse barring Oswald's body from being in the same operating theatre used on Kennedy, to Jackie at one point handing Harden a piece of Kennedy's brain matter, which was on her dress after the shooting.
Another fascinating part of the film shows us Lee Harvey Oswald's brother, Bob (James Badge Dale) a regular guy who finds himself a pariah after his brother's identity is released. Dale does a great job playing Bob as absolutely overwhelmed and numb by the circumstances, while Jacki Weaver plays the insane Oswald mother, who relishes her new infamy.
Paul Giamatti is also very affecting as Abraham Zapruder, who not only has to deal with the trauma of witnessing and recording the assassination, but also the moral implications of the media offering to buy his footage for sums of money he can't possibly turn down. It's nice to see Giamatti- for once- being allowed to play a likable guy, and he makes Zapruder very personable.
The thing is, PARKLAND isn't perfect. I agree with the critics that say too much has been jammed into the film, with all the FBI stuff centering on Ron Livingston's character feeling under-developed, especially considering how their actions cast a shadow of doubt on the assassination that will never go away (I personally have NO IDEA whether Oswald was working alone). Rather than a ninety minute film, this could have been a three or four hour miniseries, that likely would have been raved about. While I'd never say PARKLAND is perfect, it's nonetheless a pretty damn fascinating little film, and a must-see for JFK history buffs. It puts on interesting perspective on of the definitive moments of the last half-century, and manages to be entertaining to boot.