The assassination of John F. Kennedy has spawned an entire subculture dedicated to examining every detail of the tragic event. Was it the work of a lone gunman or was it a vast conspiracy involving Lyndon B. Johnson, the CIA, the military-industrial complex, the Russians, and organized crime figures? Countless books and films have sprung up over the years speculating on just that with Oliver Stone’s JFK being one of the more notable.
Millennium Entertainment’s Parkland isn’t interested in conspiracy theories or facets that have been picked apart ad nauseum. This is an ensemble piece that wishes to tell the story of the little people whose lives were forever affected by JFK’s assassination, just as the entire country was. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, Parkland was written and directed by first-timer Peter Landesman, a former journalist who based the screenplay on the book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi, a district attorney best known for prosecuting Charles Manson.
Clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) excitedly arrives at Dealy Plaza with his 8mm Bell & Howell camera in the hopes of capturing the President’s motorcade as it passed by. Instead, Zapruder unwittingly filmed the most infamous home movie ever made, clear footage of JFK. Dr. Charles Carrico (Zac Efron), a young resident at Parkland Memorial Hospital, is the first physician to treat Kennedy when he is rushed into the emergency room. As medical personnel scramble in a blood soaked ER, a dazed Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) hands a veteran nurse (Marcia Gay Harden) fragments of her husband’s skull. Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) is left in shock when he learns his younger brother (Jeremy Strong) is responsible for killing the president. Gordon Shanklin (David Harbour), head of the FBI’s Dallas field office, berates James Hosty (Ron Livingston), upon learning that the latter that been investigating Lee Harvey Oswald, including receiving a threatening letter from Oswald. Roy Kellerman (Tom Welling from “Smallville”) and other agents assigned to the President’s detail are burdened by the belief they have failed in their duty.
While major players like LBJ and Jackie Kennedy are present in Parkland, the focus is clearly on the individuals who would otherwise be considered historical footnotes. Zapruder is haunted by the images he has seen and has his faith in the American dream shaken. Robert Oswald faces an uncertain future knowing his family will become pariahs for what his brother has done. Landesman also broaches topics that one normally wouldn’t think of. Members of Kennedy’s staff remove seats from the cabin of Air Force One in order to accommodate his casket. Zapruder and Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), a Secret Service agent assigned to Kennedy’s detachment, struggle to find a photo lab to develop the 8mm film, a relatively new process in the 60’s. No church or cemetery is willing to accept Lee Harvey Oswald’s remains. During the funeral, Robert must rely on paparazzi to serve as pallbearers.
Tom Hanks served as one of the producers for Parkland and it’s disappointing he didn’t take a Band of Brothers approach to the subject matter. Zapruder and Robert Oswald are interesting enough to support their own films. A medical drama revolving around the Parkland staff as they treat Kennedy and Oswald would also be extremely compelling. At less than 90 minutes, Parkland barely scratches the surface and squanders an amazing cast. Despite turning in strong performances, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass (as Kennedy aide Ken O’Donnell), and Jackie Earle Haley (as the priest who delivers last rites) appear in glorified cameos. James Badge Dale, who has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, brings a sense of pathos to his role that is almost undermined by Jacki Weaver’s over-the-top performance as overbearing mother, Marguerite, steadfast in her belief that her younger son was a secret agent for the U.S. government.
Landesman employs a documentary style akin to Paul Greengrass, minus the headache inducing shaky cam. Not surprising that Barry Ackroyd, who also shot United 93, Green Zone, and Captain Phillips, served as cinematographer. The result allows the audience to feel like a fly on the wall while maintaining tension throughout the short runtime.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is picture perfect with subdued colors and natural skin tones.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The movie is dialogue-heavy so don’t expect your speakers to rumble. The audio is crisp and evenly distributed.
The DVD includes a collection of deleted scenes and an audio commentary track with Peter Landesman. The track is extremely informative as Landesman rifles off numerous production anecdotes and historical tidbits.
Film Value: 6/10
Parkland finds a fresh perspective on a significant moment in history, but still feels like a missed opportunity. The movie is blessed with a wealth of talented actors and intriguing characters, yet never gives them enough time to shine. Still, it earns a mild recommendation solely on star power.