Parkland centres on the events immediately after the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. The film looks at the work of the team at Parkland Hospital, the impact of Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest on his family, and the chase to find footage of the assassination, unwittingly recorded by a man watching the motorcade.
Written and directed by newcomer Peter Landesman, Parkland shines the spotlight firmly on Dallas for the three days after the assassination of JFK. The narrative is split, to focus on the major players in the assassination and it’s aftermath and, while this seems like a great idea for a movie – and sometimes it is – there seems to be a distinct lack of coherence in the film.
First of all, Parkland hospital itself. Zac Efron plays one of the junior doctors who was on site when JFK was brought in to A&E. Efron has proven himself an actor who has a skill for playing both youth and gravitas, both of which he brings to the role. As he works on JFK, trying in vain to save his life, it is plain to see that the glamour that he saw in his job is ebbing away. Colin Hanks plays Dr Perry, the senior doctor on call and, while his presence is always welcome on screen, he has surprisingly little to do. Marcia Gay Harden takes on the role of Head Nurse Doris Nelson. As the most experienced member of staff, Harden commands the chaotic room, and she brings both a command and gentle compassion to the role.
Elsewhere, Paul Giamatti plays Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the entire assassination on his Super 8 camera. Giamatti is almost always wonderful on screen, and Parkland is no exception for the actor. Throughout his story, Giamatti plays a man excited, stunned, bewildered and horrified, and it is his story that ends up becoming the focus of the film. In fact, Giamatti is so well cast, and the story of Zapruder and his film is such an interesting one, that the question of why Zapruder’s story was not told as a stand-alone film arises.
The final strand of the story comes with James Badge Dale as Robert Oswald, brother of the man arrested for JFK’s assassination. Dale plays Robert as the only level headed member of a family that has long since fallen apart. He brings a quiet dignity to the role, a strong contrast to Jacki Weaver as Oswald’s mother Marguerite, a woman so involved in conspiracy theories that she seems to have lost her grasp on what is possible. Weaver’s performance hints at the many conspiracy theories that surrounded JFK’s death, even though they are never addressed in the film.
Writer / Director Peter Landesman has taken a close look at a very short space in American history. It is interesting to see the minutiae of what happened in Parkland hospital and the surrounding stories, but since none of them is given full focus, this means that no story feels fully fleshed out, leaving the audience wanting to know more, particularly about the man whose film lives on, but who seems to have disappeared; Abraham Zapruder. Landesman created a wonderful juxtaposition between Oswald and Kennedy’s funerals, and there are some deeply moving moments as Jackie Kennedy cries over her husband’s body, and Robert Oswald asks the gathered press for help in burying his brother. That said though, the film seems to trail off at the end and, although we know from history that the story went on, this leaves the story feeling unfinished. Landesman shows his skill as a director though, as each performance is moving and carefully handled.
In all, Parkland is an interesting look at the details surrounding President Kennedy’s death, but deciding to focus on many stories – and with such a huge cast – is Landesman’s downfall. There are some great moments in the film, but it ends up feeling slightly messy and unfocused.