PARKLAND review by Gary Murray – a new way to witness the tragedy of JFK

PARKLAND review by Gary Murray – a new way to witness the tragedy of JFK


This November is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy at Dealy Plaza in Dallas. The grassy knoll has become a tourist destination over the last few decades. Part of it is history and part of it is morbid fascination of a crime scene. There have been many TV shows and films made revolving around just about every aspect of the assassination. The only certain thing about that date is that nobody truly agrees exactly what happened. The latest to revel in the misery of that moment is Parkland.

The film focuses not on the actual killing of the president but of different, little seen aspects after the event. It is actually a series of different vignettes tied together. The basic story is of the doctors at Parkland Hospital and their efforts to save JFK. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) is the young surgeon on duty who is called in to save the life of the President. The physicians have to deal with not only trying to save the live of a man, but with dealing with the ramifications that go with being around the most powerful person on the planet. Colin Hanks plays Dr. Perry, the other physician on duty. They also have to deal with a zealous coroner.

Another aspect of the film is Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti). This simple man stands at the grassy knoll trying to get a great bit of film of the President. He eventually becomes the most famous amateur photographer on the planet, the man who captures the kill shot with his little 8mm camera.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the family dynamic of the Oswalds. Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) is just a normal guy at the office. When he finds that his brother Lee Harvey is the one assumed to have shot the president, Robert’s world is turned upside down. He is not sure what or whom to believe. Easily the best performance of the entire film is by Jacki Weaver as Marguerite Oswald, the mother of Lee Harvey. She plays ‘crazy as a loon’ perfectly. At every moment she states her son’s innocence and claims that he was working for the government. She proclaims him a hero. This is the kind of a performance that gets an Oscar nod.

With such a large cast, it is very hard to make a lasting impact. Perhaps the best male performance is by Paul Giamatti as Zapruder. This is a guy who has to deal with not only the death of a president but with the fact that he captured evidence of a crime. He is affected by what he saw in ways that haunt his psyche. It is yet more proof that Giamatti is one of the best actors on the planet.

As much as I think that Zac Efron is one of the strongest actors of his generation, he is out of his league here. He is never playing a character and looks 100% out of place with the role of a young doctor. He doesn’t have the right haircut for the early 1960s, another aspect that detracts from the proper setting. It is a massive misfire that hurts the entire work.

Parkland is directed by Paul Landesman, a newbie on the scene. This former painter and journalist crafted his film not as a historical flick but as a film that could be happening today. He pulls his camera very close to the action of both the hospital and the investigation. The movie is filled with great details such as cutting an interior wall of the President’s plane in order to get the coffin inside. It is the little elements that give a solid whole to the work. To be honest, each of the stories in the piece could have been their own feature film.

Parkland is a much better flick that Oliver Stone’s JFK. By taking on aspects that are little seen, it becomes a film of small moments in a grand event. It is a fresh way to witness a moment that tainted not only Dallas but the world.

PARKLAND opens October 4, 2013

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