Delivering both respectful commemoration and fresh focus, “Parkland” revisits the forever-analyzed John F. Kennedy assassination, recounting the events of 50 years ago via the stories of lesser-known players on the scene.
Nurses, doctors and Secret Service sorts receive primary attention in this debut feature from Peter Landesman. The details aren’t dull, but the urgency and tragedy play weakly in this history tapestry.
Suggesting the RFK-assassination-themed “Bobby” mixed with a gritty Paul Greengrass drama, the film presents the events of Nov. 22, 1963, and several ensuing days, from several parties’ perspectives. The source material is Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November.” Parkland hospital, in Dallas, is the primary venue.
Fact-based characters include Parkland medical staff (played by Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron and others), who, amid shock and chaos, desperately try to save Kennedy after his motorcade date with Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong).
Elsewhere, Dallas Secret Service chief Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) assumes responsibility for the killing. FBI agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston) acknowledges that he investigated Oswald but deemed him no threat. Oswald’s brother (James Badge Dale) and mother (Jacki Weaver) respond to the events strikingly differently.
Clothier and amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) must decide what to do with the sought-after footage he shot of the assassination.
Depicting additional events ranging from Oswald’s death (again at Parkland) to jurisdictional feuding to the rushing of new chief exec Lyndon Johnson to Washington, Landesman’s canvas contains interesting brushstrokes.
The scenes involving the impact of the assassination on Robert Oswald, a decent office worker dealing with his new status as the brother of America’s most reviled man, stand out, as do details such as the fact that Air Force One had to be modified to accommodate JFK’s coffin.
Unfortunately, those elements don’t add up to a compelling or revelatory picture of the 1963 events.
Largely a collection of surface scenarios, “Parkland” lacks the impressive centers of gravity and connective threads that characterize movies by directors Robert Altman or Steven Soderbergh. Here, it takes injections of Walter Cronkite to underscore the immensity and intensity of the tragedy.
The film also suffers from what seems a deliberate fuzziness on Landesman’s part in addressing questions of a conspiracy in regard to Oswald.
The all-name cast proves uneven. Thornton, Giamatti and Dale excel, but Efron as the medical resident trying to save JFK’s life is hard to buy.
Weaver’s Marguerite Oswald, extolling her assassin son as a hero, comes off as a deranged caricature.
Starring Paul Giamatti, Ron Livingston, James Badge Dale, Billy Bob Thornton
Written and directed by Peter Landesman