Directed by: Peter Landesman.
Written by: Peter Landesman based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi.
Starring: James Badge Dale (Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Jr.), Paul Giamatti (Abraham Zapruder), Zac Efron (Dr. Charles James "Jim" Carrico), Jacki Weaver (Marguerite Oswald), Billy Bob Thornton (Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels), Ron Livingston (James P. Hosty), Marcia Gay Harden (Head Nurse Doris Nelson), David Harbour (James Gordon Shanklin), Jeremy Strong (Lee Harvey Oswald), Tom Welling (Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman), Mark Duplass (Kenneth O'Donnell), Colin Hanks (Dr. Malcolm O. Perry), Jackie Earle Haley (Father Oscar Hubert), Kat Steffens (First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy), Gil Bellows (David Powers), Bitsie Tulloch (Marilyn Sitzman), Jonathan Breck (Winston Lawson), Gary Grubbs (Dr. Kemp Clark), Glenn Morshower (Mike Howard), Sean McGraw (Lyndon Johnson), Brett Stimely (President John F. Kennedy).
I understand in theory why a film like Parkland seems like a good idea. The Assassination of JFK is one of the defining moments in American history, and has been depicted onscreen in a variety of ways over the years – not to mention in books and other media. There is little new ways in which the events can be depicted, and so any new depiction has to find a new way into the events if it’s going to be anything more than a rehash of what has already been done. So writer/director Peter Landesman based his movie on the book by Vincent Bugliosi which concentrates on the events on the few days between the JFK assassination and the murder of his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. JFK is not really a character in the movie, and neither is Jackie Kennedy – who seen basically shell shocked for her entire time onscreen, and even Lyndon Johnson only gets a few moments onscreen. Instead the film concentrates on the regular people who played a role – doctors and nurses, FBI and Secret Service agents, the family of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the man who took the infamous footage of the assassination, Abraham Zapruder. Landesman attracted a large, excellent cast to play the roles – perhaps few big stars, but almost every role, no matter how small, is played by a recognizable actor. It all must have seemed like a good idea. And yet the result is a film so scattershot, superficial and lightweight that only a few characters leave any sort of impact at all. Perhaps a TV miniseries, which could have spent 8-10 hours with everyone could have done it justice. Instead, we have 90 minutes – and that barely seems like enough time to scratch the surface of the story.
Two characters leave an impression out of this huge cast. The first is Zapruder himself, played by Paul Giamatti. Zapruder, the son of immigrants who built himself a nice business and life, is in love with America – and President Kennedy. He is almost as excited as a school boy about the parade route, tells his staff to take an early lunch so they can see him, and then takes his new camera to capture the momentous occasion. Then he captures the unthinkable – and amazing for an amateur, he keeps filming – he doesn’t stop. This in some ways horrifies him later, and he wants his film to be treated with the respect it – and more importantly the President deserves. In some ways though, even the Zapruder storyline is undercut in some ways, as the movie spends far too long explaining the difficulty of processing 8MM film – a new technology at the time – and Zapruder, and the Secret Service, travel from lab to lab to get it done.
The other character who makes an impact is Robert Oswald, played by James Badge Dale. What do you do when you find out that your brother killed the President? Robert is a normal guy, trying to live his normal life, when it is thrown upside down by the events that transpire. He knows his brother is troubled, but loves him anyway, and tries his best to deal with the situation – someone has to, and it won’t be Lee’s wife, who never speaks in the movie, or their mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) – who unfortunately is play by Weaver as a complete loon. The best scene in the movie is the conversation Robert has with Lee (Jeremy Strong) in prison, where Lee doesn’t seem to be too worried about anything (talking about his kids’ need for new shoes). I wished the whole movie was about Robert Oswald.
No one else in the movie leaves much of an impression – because they move by so quickly that who they are never really sinks in. We get a few scenes at the FBI Office, where an agent (Ron Livingston) admits he’s been tracking Oswald for a while, but never did anything about it – and the firestorm that causes. We get other scenes at the hospital, where an inexperienced resident (Zac Efron) tries in vain to save the President. And then there’s Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrel (Billy Bob Thornton), who spends some time with Zapruder, before disappearing for a while. Other acts come and go so quickly, that the film almost becomes a spot the star game. Look there’s Marcia Gay Harden as a nurse. Mark Duplass and Tom Welling as Secret Service agents. Jackie Earle Haley as a Priest. Gil Bellows as, well someone.
Parkland just never really settles down long enough to give any individual story the treatment they deserve – or need to have any sort of impact. It’s all too chaotic and choppy for that. Perhaps there is a director’s cut of the film – twice the length of this 90 minute film – that does justice to its characters and storyline. But as it stands now, Parkland feels like a TV pilot for a longer series in which we’ll eventually figure out who everyone is, and what their stories are. As it stands now it just isn’t good enough.