The film, named after the hospital where both President John F. Kennedy and gunman Lee Harvey Oswald were taken after being fatally shot, provides a unique perspective on the historic assassination. In his directorial debut, journalist-turned-director Peter Landesman, who also wrote the film, keeps the era’s anachronisms to a low but unfortunately focuses on too many characters that it distorts the coherence of the film. In short, Landesman bites off more than he can chew.
“I will never be ordinary again”
Focusing on those who dealt with the aftermath, “Parkland” boasts Tom Hanks’ name on the production credits and a stellar cast including Marcia Gay Haden, Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks and Zac Efron, albeit in less-than-stellar performances, except for Paul Giamatti and James Badge Dale, who play amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder, and Oswald’s brother Robert, respectively.
Landesman is skilled in intercuttng between actual footage of JFK’s landing in Dallas and subsequent assassination with his own footage of Secret Service agents standing by the airport and Zapruder preparing to film the motorcade. He never shows the JFK actor’s face when lying in the emergency room and seldom shows Jackie Kennedy’s face. It keeps the focus on the fact that the assassination happened to JFK, not the guy who played JFK.
“We had him!”
The President dies in the first act, and the film lacks any other climax. The assassination happened so quickly, it feels like the film just keeps going and going until it eventually ends. The film has a journalistic preference, putting greater emphasis on how the media covers the events. An example being Zapruder’s video footage, which is hounded by every news outlet; most notably Time magazine, whose editor meets with Zapruder to discuss the publication of his film stills.
The film’s title is somewhat misleading. The doctors and nurses (Colin Hanks, Zac Efron, and Marcia Gay Haden) try to revive JFK, but, in failing to do so, are not seen again until Oswald is also taken to their hospital. I feel the film would have been better in coherence and character development if it focused more on Zapruder, Robert Oswald, and FBI Agent James Hosty (who was assigned to investigate Oswald’s return to the US following his defection to the Soviet Union and who had received a hand-delivered letter from Oswald ten days prior to the assassination). These three men were unintentionally caught up in a historic event which they now must cope with. Dale plays the role of Robert Oswald convincingly, whose life was turned upside down and must now deal with his shattered family, being advised by Dallas police to change his name, move out of town, and pray he never needs the help of law enforcement. “Office Space”‘s Ron Livingston plays James Hosty, who must deal with the fact that the FBI had Oswald in their building and failed to take action. To save the FBI from embarrassment, Hosty makes the tough decision to burn the file they kept on Oswald.
“The biggest fuck-up in the history of American law enforcement”
There are no outstanding aspects of the film; the score fits the film appropriately but is definitely not the work of a James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer. The cinematography is not bad. The screenplay is mediocre at best (Zac Efron insists on keeping JFK’s boxers on). Perhaps that is the trouble with portraying historical events, you cannot deviate too heavily from what these characters say or do lest you want to be accused of historical inaccuracy. Given the subject matter, Landesman certainly doesn’t want to screw up.
The film, released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination, takes itself a little too seriously. Landesman ingratiates himself with the viewing public by being too cautious and reserved to make any bold claims that might disturb the public or tarnish the dignity and patriotism of JFK and those who dealt with the aftermath. He relies too heavily on his ensemble cast to bring in the big bucks at the box office. Even so, he underuses them all to make room for all the other characters. The end result: an endearing but lacklustre film that will make audiences look at their watches more often than not.