The scars left on the psyche of the United States after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have never healed. The cultural loss of virtue, coupled with a few spicy conspiracy theories, has kept the events of November 1963 fresh in the minds of many – even generations after the fact.
Directed by Peter Landesman, Parkland explores the murder and its aftermath through the eyes of various individuals. It runs as an emotionally charged procedural that comes based on Vincent Bugliosi’s Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The film opens with the Dallas area looking forward to the arrival of the president. Some, like Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), are excited and plan to film his motorcade as he passes by. Others are going about business as usual, like Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Jr. (James Badge Dale).
Then, staggeringly, President Kennedy is shot. Zapruder can’t believe what he’s seen. The doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital are stunned to receive the president and struggle to save his life while the First Lady (Kat Steffens) looks on. And as the dust settles somewhat, the FBI comes to realize just how close they were to having the murderer in their clutches.
These matters are all compelling parts of American history, of course. Parkland narrows the lens to the more personal aspects, like Doctors Malcolm O. Perry (Colin Hanks) and Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) working to save JFK only to have the same facility have to take care of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) after he’s shot.
And it deals in family members trying to make sense of it all, like Oswald’s brother trying to deal with his sibling’s actions and the clear insanity of his mother (Jacki Weaver). These scenes are brought to life through a set of powerful and engaging performances.
It also deals in the FBI’s internal guilt given how close they were to getting Lee Harvey Oswald. They deal with “a thousand what-ifs,” as any law enforcement agency must when they’ve missed something vital.
And Zapruder’s story is vital, too. Giamatti is extraordinary, especially as his character first witnesses the assassination through his lens. The pure panic and shock at what he sees registers as a human reaction to the inhumane, a gasp and cry that surely reverberates with many who still remember that day.
Landesman’s efforts to collect the intimate stories surrounding the assassination are worthwhile and Parkland is a reasonably good movie, but it never quite reaches the level the material demands. It admirably eschews conspiracy theories and politics in favour of focusing on heartache, guilt and anger, which is to its credit.
But the recurrent shots of coffins, flowers, graves, tears, solemn faces, and blood threaten to form a sort of anguish pornography. At times, Parkland seems more a display of who can grieve best rather than who can sum up the experience most completely.
The narratives that America tells itself about itself will always prove compelling and the cinematic history lent to do its duty is almost always interesting on some level. The gravity of these events cannot be overlooked. Parkland’s attempt at doing such gravity justice by narrowing the focus to the subjective is mostly impressive.