Monday, December 30, 2013

Parkland (2013)

Director: Peter Landesman                             Writer: Peter Landesman
Film Score: James Newton Howard                 Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston and Zac Efron

Writer-director Peter Landesman has not had a very good record so far, his first film Trade being something of a critical dud though enjoyed by audiences. Parkland occupies a similar space. Its function seems primarily an attempt to widen the scope of Kennedy Assassination films by looking at the effect on ordinary people who were there and had to deal with the aftermath. Though the film is named after the hospital President Kennedy was taken to after being shot, the film really has three different threads that Landesman weaves together. The first is the hospital staff itself, completely surprised and overwhelmed by their part in the tragedy. The second is Abraham Zapruder, who took the only film of the assassination, and thirdly is Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert who couldn’t comprehend how his brother had become involved in all of this.

The film begins well, with actual footage of Kenedy’s Texas trip, beginning in Houston. There is also the breakfast in Ft. Worth that morning where he was given a cowboy hat. From there, a short flight to Dallas and then into the motorcade. Meanwhile, the residents at Parkland Memorial Hospital are being woken up by nurse Marcia Gay Harden, among them Zac Efron. Paul Giamatti as Zapruder comes into the office with his movie camera, excited to film the motorcade just outside his building, and Ron Livingston as Dallas FBI agent James Hosty is being informed that the Secret Service wants no assistance from the FBI for this event. One of the good things the film does is not to dwell on the actual shooting; in fact there is even a disclaimer at the beginning stating that the film’s purpose is not to address the assassination theories. The camera simply stays on Giamatti as he is shooting his film until the limo has disappeared beneath the underpass.

It’s only once the post-shooting story gets underway that the film bogs down and becomes a disappointment. Several films have already dealt, at least in part, with the scene at Parkland Hospital and with the fruitless attempts to keep Kennedy alive. Marcia Gay Hardin does a nice job as the head nurse at attempting to keep order in the emergency room. Colin Hanks also has a nice turn as the attending physician. And what the film had done a very good job with to this point, keeping Kennedy’s face either obscured or out of focus, falls short when Kat Steffens as Jackie Kennedy is given a tremendous amount of screen time. In the first place, she’s not convincing at all. Neither her attempt at conveying shock or grief is believable. Had Landesman made the same choice with both her and Johnson that he made with the president, it would have been a much better film, forcing viewers to stay with the characters emphasized in the story.

The Zapruder sections with Giamatti are also lacking in drama. The scramble to get the film developed by Secret Service man Billy Bob Thornton is interesting, but the angst about selling the film to Life is common knowledge. The most interesting parts of the film are when Ron Livingston is being castigated by his superiors for having Oswald in the office two weeks before and being told to destroy their files on him, and James Badge Dale as Oswald’s brother, and what he went through with his brother’s death and dealing with his crazy mother. Parkland is worth watching as an insight into these people, but as a piece of cinematic art it definitely falls story. There is just so much more that Landesman could have done with this, especially given the depth of knowledge so many viewers have about the subject matter, to make it a better film.

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