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‘Parkland’ Review: Heroic attempts to save the President

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First time director Peter Landesman cast his journalistic eye on the Kennedy assassination for the film Parkland. The former New York magazine writer based on his script on Vincent Bugliosi’s book, (Four Days in November) the film follows multiple story lines as the characters deal with the aftermath of that tragic day. Landesman assembled a superb ensemble with a mix of Oscar winners and former teen heartthrobs that all deliver compelling performances.

Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) tells his staff to make sure they get out and see the president. He’s excited to use his camera to capture the president as he drives past Dealey Plaza. The doctors and nurses of the local training hospital, Parkland, are preparing for their day.  Jim (Zac Efron-The Lucky One), as the youngest doctor is catching up on sleep and flirting with a young nurse and Nurse Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) watches over the staff ensuring everyone is in order. Chief Dr. Perry (Colin Hanks- The Guilt Trip) is in a meeting with his superiors.Photo: collider.com

The filmmakers used footage from the Zapruder film, but most of the time, it is seen as a reflection, coming off of the eyeglasses of the characters watching it. Landesman handles the assassination sequence tastefully, the act is never shown. Zapruder narrates, as he’s speaking to one of his staff in horror.

Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) plays Forrest Sorrels, the most senior Secret Service agent, working with Zapruder to try and identify the shooter.  Lee Harvey Oswald was identified fairly quickly as a suspect, and his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) found out while he was at work, and the news report was on the radio. Dale (this summer’s go-to supporting actor in Iron Man 3, World War Z and The Lone Ranger) deals with the hostile law enforcement as he tries to support his brother.   It’s a little tricky getting a read on what he’s thinking – Dale’s performance is so subtle and controlled. Is it shock, resignation?  Mama Oswald (Jacki Weaver) is a nightmare as the deluded matriarch.

When the secret service detail heads to the hospital, Special Agent in Charge Roy Kellerman (Tom Welling- Cheaper By the Dozen, Smallville) quietly standards guard as Jim, Dr. Perry and Nurse Nelson try to keep the president alive. Jackie Earle Haley plays the priest brought in to deliver last rights.

Landesman uses documentary style camera work, which can be a bit distracting. The challenge with this style of reportage is that none of the characters are fully developed. In an effort to cover all aspects of the story equally, each piece remains superficial. Focusing on the Oswald clan at all was an interesting choice for Landesman.

The Secret Service detail actually is the most defined. They are devastated that they have lost their president. Actors Mark Duplass (Zero Dark Thirty) and Welling bring nuanced performances as they each process the horror, yet continue on with their duties. Watching them and the FBI reel from the attack, the sense of duty and obligation and now guilt is heartbreaking.     

The denouement of the film is a bit unsatisfying, but how should one recover from such a horror? This film is a must see for history buffs. Both the people who lived through this will and the younger generations will benefit from seeing the story told in such an intimate manner.

Warning: the hospital scenes are somewhat graphic.


Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: collider.com