Movie Review: "Parkland"
Rating: PG-13 (bloody sequences, some violent images and language, smoking throughout)
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2013
Directed by: Peter Landesman
Stars: 3 out of 5.
For most Americans, November 22, 1963, is a day that will always be remembered as one of the saddest in our nation's history. One of the country's most beloved presidents was assassinated during a visit to Dallas, Texas. President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, were traveling in a convertible vehicle when shots rang out from the Texas School Book Depository, and history was immediately changed. While there have been countless movies about the assassination and the ensuing controversy, "Parkland" focuses on the four days that surrounded the horrific event, centering on the secondary players in the drama that unfolded.
One of the most fascinating things about this film is the way that Peter Landesman condenses this huge story into such a succinct movie. At just over an hour and a half, "Parkland" moves at a frenetic pace, but it never loses the viewer in an overblown plot or analysis. Each scene is necessary in weaving the story, and each character has just enough screen time to justify his or her role. With well-timed camera work and clever angles, the director is able to make this feel almost like a documentary. He mixes historical footage with original material to keep the story moving, and his expert use of set design and wardrobe makes the movie seem as though it was shot in 1963.
Most movies of this nature require a capable ensemble cast to effectively portray the numerous roles, and "Parkland" is no different. A number of Hollywood's finest actors take part in this movie, and some surprising casting choices pay large dividends. Zac Efron is not generally known for acting in such roles, but his portrayal of Dr. Charles Carrico is impressive. Carrico was a heart surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, and he was the first doctor assigned with the task of saving Kennedy's life. Efron is not only believable as a heart surgeon, but he portrays a range of emotions rarely seen in his other works.
Marcia Gay Harden is perfectly cast as head-nurse Doris Nelson, and she captures the essence of a professional who is forced to hold her emotions in check as she attempts to save the life of her most important patient ever.
"Parkland" focuses on the role that Secret Service and FBI agents played over these four days, and Ron Livingston is superb as FBI Agent James Hosty. Lee Harvey Oswald was considered to be a person of interest upon returning from Russia, and Hosty was assigned to his case. After what he felt was a thorough investigation, Hosty decided that Oswald was not a threat. Livingston plays the part well, expressing his stalwart belief that Oswald couldn't be capable of such an act, while fearing that he may have been able to stop the assassination.
Playing the role of Forrest Sorrels, the head of Secret Service in Dallas, is Billy Bob Thornton, and he is one of the highlights of the movie. Sorrels discovers the existence of the famous Zapruder film and is dogged in his determination to process the film and keep his agents on track. Thornton is exceptional, as always. In another fine showing,
Paul Giamatti portrays Abraham Zapruder. Film technology was more novel at the time than it is now, but Zapruder was an extremely proficient hobbyist. He had the incredible sense to keep the camera rolling, and he captured what is perhaps the most important amateur film in American history. He knew exactly what he had caught on film, and he was aware of just how important it was. Zapruder had reservations about sharing his unprocessed film, but he felt a sense of responsibility to share it with the proper authorities. He was also faced with the difficult task of selling the developed footage to the highest—and most trustworthy—bidder. Giamatti is able to capture all of these difficult decisions and emotions in very little screen time. Landesman refreshingly also accomplishes to engender sympathy for the surviving members of Oswald's family.
Jacki Weaver is convincing as a distraught mother, and her ability to portray the matriarch of an American enemy is absorbing. James Badge Dale is engrossing as Robert Oswald, and Jeremy Strong is the ideal actor to portray Lee Harvey. The director's decision to spend so much time on the Oswald family is bold, but it is necessary to tell this story from every possible angle. "Parkland" is not just another movie about who was behind the assassination of a president; it is a story about the incredible people behind the scenes before and after the assassination. Many lives were touched as a result of that day, and this film does a fine job of telling the narratives of those closest to the event.