MOVIE REVIEW: Parkland

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PARKLAND

DIRECTOR: Peter Landesman

CAST: Zac Efron, Ron Livingston, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale

CLASSIFICATION: 10-12 PG

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

RATING: ***

Seen through one lens, Parkland, Peter Landesman’s sober-minded, scrupulously faithful re-enactment of the assassination of John F Kennedy and the three days that followed that event, was inevitable.

In an era of compulsive repackaging of the past – from nostalgic jukebox musicals to near-immediate retellings like Zero Dark Thirty – and during the assassination’s 50th anniversary year, it’s natural that the cardinal trauma of the baby boomer generation would provide fodder for yet another feature film.

But considering Hollywood’s penchant for hype and editorialising, Parkland is anything but inevitable. Serious, care- ful, assiduously uninflected, Landesman’s often fascinating tick-tock stands as the anti-JFK, Oliver Stone’s fever dream of a grand unified conspiracy theory.

Rather than lead viewers down rabbit holes, Parkland simply focuses on the known facts, with- out speculation and with minimal stylistic embellishment. A film of modest ambition and workmanlike pacing, it breaks little new ground, either in form or content. Then again, that may be the point.

Parkland begins with familiar newsreel footage of Kennedy’s visit to Texas on November 22, 1963 when he joshingly accepted a cowboy hat in Fort Worth before decamping for Dallas.

As the president and first lady make their way to the motorcade, a young emergency medicine resident named Jim Carrico (Efron) blearily prepares for another day at Parkland Hospital; an FBI agent named James Hosty (Livingston) glances at one of the “Wanted for Treason” flyers that have appeared around Dallas in anticipation of Kennedy’s arrival; and a garment executive named Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) excitedly grabs his new Super-8 camera and heads to Dealey Plaza to secure a prime spot for filming.

We know what happens next. And Landesman – a former journalist making his directing debut here – dwells with graphic, at times morbid fascination on the fruitless attempts of Carrico and his team to save the president’s life, reminding viewers of the copious amount of blood in the ER and tweaking the sound mix to accentuate every squishy footstep.

Working with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, Landesman effectively conveys the chaos and panic of what momentarily felt like a coup. (“There are people ready to start a war out there,” says a frightened Secret Service agent played by Thornton.)

Those sequences are excruciating to watch, but once Parkland leaves the hospital to catch up with the unlikely individuals who intersected with the assassination, the film becomes a gripping, even mesmerising exploration of events for which there was no frame of reference – experiential, mythical or otherwise.

Working from Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November,” Landesman doesn’t shy away from the bizarre coincidences and confrontations that converged around the JFK assassination, from Hosty’s previous communications with Lee Harvey Oswald and the outrageous demands of Oswald’s termagant of a mother (a hysterically strident Jacki Weaver, in the film’s only off-key performance) to the Dallas medical examiner coming to unseemly blows to keep the body in Dallas.

Methodically and with generally unfailing good restraint, Landesman recreates the grief surrounding the crime and the confusion of Oswald’s capture and subsequent murder.

He steadfastly avoids putting any spin on the ball, even when Hosty obeys orders to destroy the Dallas FBI’s Oswald file, thus igniting untold conflagrations of conspiracy theories.

More obliquely, the filmmaker reminds viewers of a long-ago era, before the 24/7 news cycle and social media, when Americans got the same story at the same time. In this case the common culture was expressed by way of newsmen like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley, who managed to find just the right words at times of unspeakable, confounding loss.

Parkland captures the sadness, solemnity and surreal weirdness of it all. But it also honours the dignity of those accidental participants whose lives would be forever marked by the JFK assassination: When Zapruder negotiates with Life magazine to publish stills from what amounts to an inadvertent snuff film, he insists that the most graphic frames be excised.

Improbably, the most affecting figure in Parkland is Oswald’s brother, Robert, played by Dale in a quietly galvanising portrayal of a man whose fundamental decency informs every simple act and word left unsaid.

Dale is revelatory in a film that, while perhaps not conventionally entertaining, successfully acquits its mission: to tell us that this happened, and what it might have felt like to be a numb, grieving, reluctant witness. – Washington Post

If you liked Flight or Captain Phillips you will like this.

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