Peter Landsman’s ensemble drama “Parkland,” about the John F Kennedy assassination, left me both underwhelmed and frustrated. Underwhelmed, because it’s nothing more than a basic history lesson about the event and frustrated because two of its many characters could have had their own movie, both of which would have been far more interesting than this one.
Based on the book “Four Days in November” by Vincent Bugliosi, the movie begins in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Everyone is going about their daily routines but there’s an aura of excitement in the air as Air Force One touches down and the President (along with his wife) begins riding around town. I don’t need to tell you what happens next, but all hell breaks loose and that initial excitement turns into panic and grief. “Parkland” proceeds to recount this tragic event and the three days following it from the perspectives of multiple people.
There are the doctors at Parkland hospital (some of which are played by Zac Effron and Colin Hanks) who tried to revive the President. Then there is Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the ordinary nobody whose home movie documented the assassination, along with the Dallas chief of Secret Service played by Billy Bob Thornton. Then there’s the FBI as they search for the assassin and realize that they just missed him. And finally, JFK’s security team and Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald.
On paper this sounds solid, and I’m sure Bugliosi’s book (from which Landsman adapted the screenplay) is an interesting read but Landsman’s film does a lot of restating the obvious: we know that JFK was assassinated, we know that the country was in serious mourning, we know that doctors tried to revive him, we know that Oswald was assassinated as well, etc. It doesn’t really have anything new to say about the event and by the end you’re wondering why it was even made in the first place.
The film is fast paced and shot (by Barry Ackroyd) in cinema verite style but it still feels flat and clinical. The film doesn’t create much tension or excitement on its own. Like Paul Greengrass’ 9/11 drama “United 93,” it never transcends “the true life event” that it recounts. Worst of all, because the picture includes multiple perspectives and has a relatively short running time (ninety three minutes) it fails to explore any of the characters in any great depth and so we’re left with a well made but skin deep dramatization of those four turbulent days in November that is more fit for the History channel than for a theatrical movie. The acting is fine for the most part, no one is flat out terrible, but because none of the characters are given enough time to blossom none of the acting is outstanding either.
This leads me to why I found “Parkland” frustrating. The two most interesting characters in the entire movie were Zapruder and Robert Oswald, and as I watched their scenes I kept thinking about how both of them could have benefited from having their own movie, as they both provide a fresh perspective to the event. Just because of one little home video, Zapruder’s life was forever altered and he never could handle it. He was, after all, just another excited JFK supporter eager to catch a glimpse of the President. And as for Oswald? Well, imagine being the brother of the JFK assassin. There’s so much potential with these guys but since there so many other characters, they remain undeveloped.
“Parkland” is made with good intentions and you’d think that a multi-angled account of the JFK assassination would be compelling. But by trying to tell such a big story in such little time, Landsman ends up telling us very little that we don’t know. The movie should have been longer, perhaps even a miniseries, but I still think Landsman’s best bet would have been making a movie about just Zapruder or Robert Oswald.