Judge Michael Nazarewycz is jumping at shadows on the grassy knoll.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This is the story of what happened next.
Sometimes we focus so much on one thing that it's easy to forget the other things around it. Consider the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. We focus so much on the Zapruder film that it's easy forget there was a guy named Zapruder who actually shot it. We focus so much on Lone Gunman versus Conspiracy Theories that it's easy to forget that Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was killed and buried within three days of the shooting. We focus so much on Kennedy being hit (courtesy of that Zapruder film) that it's easy to forget he didn't die immediately; he lived long enough to make it to the hospital, where he died soon after.
Parkland, named for that Texas hospital where Kennedy was taken after being shot, seeks to direct attention to those details that are often missed by telling the stories of the events that occurred in the immediate wake of Kennedy's shooting.
Facts of the Case
Like the rest of Dallas, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti, The Ides of March) is excited for the arrival of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Unlike the rest of Dallas, Zapruder films the president's motorcade and that fateful shooting. He is haunted by the event and hounded by the media—and the Secret Service.
Dr. Charles "Jim" Carrico (Zac Efron, The Paperboy) and Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock) are on duty at Parkland Hospital when an army of Secret Service agents storms the ER with the president's dying body. They and the rest of the staff make every effort to save the Leader of the Free World.
Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale, Iron Man 3) is going about his average workday when he hears the news on the radio that his brother, Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong, Zero Dark Thirty), has been arrested for the shooting of the thirty-fifth president. His and his mother's (Jacki Weaver, Stoker) lives are upended, only to then be to turned inside out two days later when Lee is shot and killed.
I love the idea of this film, and it sets up for something special.
First, it takes a unique perspective on a well-documented story. Like I said, it's easy to stop thinking about the JFK event once his head snaps "back and to the left" in the film footage. Next, it follows the perspectives of three unique, but critical-to-history, participants: Zapruder, the Oswald family, and the staff at Parkland Hospital. (The film also teaches us that Parkland is not only where JFK was treated, but Oswald too). It even has a tight timeframe (three days) and an endpoint so perfect in terms of storytelling (Oswald's burial) that in a work of complete fiction it would strain belief.
Unfortunately, the finished product doesn't live up to the idea. Yes, it covers all three storylines, and it even delves into how territorial the assassination became among Texas law enforcement, the FBI, and the Secret Service. At 87 minutes, with no fewer than seven major characters, there isn't enough time or space to properly develop any of these threads.
The most interesting of the four stories is Zapruder's, and it is the best-told (a relative statement) in the film. This man didn't just witness a horrifying moment in history, he recorded it and it subsequently bore his name for all time. Parkland takes care to show at least the emotional impact to Zapruder (It doesn't hurt that Paul Giamatti is the actor in the role). The other three stories are varying depths of shallow because they simply don't have the time to grow.
Some of this blame could be assigned to the studio, which might not have wanted another three-hour long Kennedy film (a la JFK). Some of it must be assigned, though, to writer/director Peter Landesman (Trade). In his first major effort, Landesman makes some mistakes that I think cost the film. There is the aforementioned lack of story development, but there are also scenes where he wastes some of that precious time on trivia. The prime example of this is a scene that involves the challenges of making room on Air Force One for Kennedy's coffin—in five minutes. Granted, it's one of those things most viewers would never think of, but it does nothing to advance, or add depth to, the story. Landesman is also fond of the handheld camera, a filming device that grows tired quickly. It was so pervasive, I was reminded of TV's The Office. Speaking of TV, some of the dialogue is made-for-TV clunky, as well.
Landesman shows some keen directing skills, though. He is smart enough to avoid using imagery that we are used to seeing in films or shows about the Kennedy assassination. He never shows the whole Zapruder film, or even the kill shot; only brief snippets early in the motorcade's route. He also avoids using the well-known footage of anchorman Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy's death and nearly tearing up in the process. From a technical perspective, there is a sublime shot of a longer snippet of the Zapruder film as seen in the reflection of Zapruder's glasses. It's the money shot of the film and worth a rewind (which I did).
That shot, as well as the rest of the film's anamorphic imagery, is some of the best I've seen on DVD this year, showcasing some wonderful cinematography from Captain Phillips' Barry Ackroyd. The sound is great too, nicely layering in background noise, as there are a lot of radio/TV reports, as well as crowd chatter, to be heard. There is a Blu-ray edition of this film that was not available for review; I wish it had been. I don't know what extras are on the Blu-ray, but the DVD release only contains six meaningless deleted scenes and a director's commentary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While not everyone is given a lot to work with (Jackie Earle Haley has a cameo as a priest and Billy Bob Thornton has standard G-man lines), there isn't a bad performance in the entire film. It is anchored by Giamatti, whose role, I cannot stress enough, is critical to the film. His shock in watching Kennedy be killed is wrenching, but it's his ever-growing fatigue from it all—even over just three days—that you really feel. Dale is excellent as well as the assassin's brother who became a victim too, with guilt-by-association compounding his fresh confusion. Stealing every scene (albeit too few of them) is Jacki Weaver as Oswald's mother, Marguerite. The Australian actress dazzles as the mother who is near-crazy with blind devotion to her son Lee. I wanted her in this more.
While Parkland's's relationship to Oliver Stone's JFK is tangential at best, the film still makes an interesting companion piece to the 1991 Oscar winner.
This film is not a patsy. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
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