Parkland, from director Peter Landesman, follows the events in the 3 days following November 22nd, 1963 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The stories we follow are those of the people immediately effected, those being an onlooker, a surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital (hence the title), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald and the authorities dealing with the incident.
The scenes of the assassination will be familiar to everyone and the events which followed will be familiar to most, therefore it is to the films credit that the first 30 minutes work as well as they do, following the events leading up to, and directly after, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinates the President of the United States.
These opening scenes are truly haunting and had me on the edge of my seat, white knuckled in anticipation. Watching events of this magnitude unfold with the benefit of hindsight makes for very uncomfortable viewing, especially as the film intersperses drama with snippets of documentary footage. Parkland does well to show the events through the reactions of onlookers rather than actual captures of the shooting, only showing us brief glimpses of the real life action.
The first reaction we’re presented with is that of Abraham Zapruder, played by Paul Giamatti, who shot the now infamous footage. As you’d excpect, Giamatti gives a very convincing and powerful performance. You get the feeling that there is a lot more to be said for the story of Zapruder and you’d be able to make a much better film solely dealing with his experiences around the assassination, unfortunately he’s only allowed a few scenes with which to work, engrossing though they may be.
The film swiftly moves to the hospital where JFK is optimistically taken. Parkland Memorial is where the most interesting and dramatic scenes take place, while the rest of the film swirls around it as everyone attempts to come to terms with the events that have transpired. Here we find inexperienced resident surgeon Jim Carrico, played by Zac Efron, thrust into a situation that leaves him clearly, and justifiably, dumbfounded. When JFK arrives he still has a faint heartbeat but any efforts to revive him are clearly in vain. Efron does a fantastic job as he again shows glimpses of a fantastic career in the offing. Colin Hanks joins Efron as senior surgeon Dr. Malcolm Perry, just in time to see JFK slip graphically, and ungraciously, through their fingers.
Unfortunately it is from this point that the film swiftly peters out. There is reason to call for spending more time on the development of each strand than Parkland allows, but I don’t think that is solely to blame for the mundane nature of the last two thirds of the film. There are plenty of interesting factoids which this film throws at us – that Oswald died in the same hospital as JFK and under the care of the same doctors, that a wall and two rows of seats were removed from the presidents plane in order to fit his coffin on board, that Zapruder capitalised on the most traumatic day of his life by forcing as much profit from Life magazine for the footage as possible, that Lee Harvey Oswalds mother was insane while his brother was simply stuck in a impossible situation – but none of these titbits hold enough gravity when compared to the trauma of the opening scenes.
It almost seems that the later mundane parts of Parkland reflect the ongoing banality of life as it plods forward in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event. I feel that this conclusion may, however, be giving the filmmakers too much credit and even if the comparisons were intentional, it doesn’t make for engrossing viewing and as such would still be a flaw in the picture.
I’ve seen several people who’ve been quite vitriolic in their condemnation of Parkland, accusing it of trivialising such an important event in American history. I think that to make such accusations is quite unfair; the film does the best it can to tell a story which it is ultimately ill-equipped to tell. There is nothing to fault in the actors performances here as everyone delivers extremely strong and powerful performances within the constraints of their roles, nor can you really find fault in the story that they’re attempting to produce. The fault can only lie in the muddled screenplay and frenetic directing which does justice to none of the storylines involved.
Ulti mately Parkland is not thought-provoking, inspiring or even brave enough to be offensive, but it does raise some interesting scenarios and is full of some very solid acting.