On November 22nd, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in his motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Parkland attempts to portray the aftermath through the experiences of a number of diverse players who bore witness to the tragedy and the days to follow. It’s an ambitious film, and one that is too densely packed for its 90 minutes to really explore some of the more interesting aspects of these people and how that fateful day would forever change their lives.
Among the people profiled are Doctors Charles Carrico (Zac Efron) and Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks), and Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) who fight to save Kennedy, and then a few days later his accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) at the Parkland Hospital. There’s Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens), who is almost non-existant in this film, we only see her crying in her iconic blood soaked pink suit. Among the more intriguing stories are those of James Hosty (Ron Livingston), an FBI agent who received a written threat from Oswald in person only days before the assassination. Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the unfortunate man who captured the assassination as it occurred on his camera and must fend off numerous press outlets as well as the FBI for rights to the footage. And then there is the Oswald family, Lee, his brother Robert (James Badge Dale), and their delusional mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver). Robert is the main focus here, and is portrayed as a man almost as vilified as his brother.
The amount of actors in this film is quite remarkable, with each scene packed to the gills with bystanders both named and unnamed. The various players rarely cross story lines, which gives the film a bit of a fragmented feel that makes it incapable of true analysis across characters. The only tie that binds them and their experiences together is the shear importance of the event and the unpreparedness felt by a nation in mourning. It makes for some poignant scenes, where we see Secret Service and police officers running around frantically, trying to think of all possible security contingencies for Vice President Johnson and Jackie Kennedy while simultaneously coming to terms with their failure to protect their number one mark. Or the struggle to get the newly deceased President’s coffin on his plane and instead having to resort to cutting out part of the interior door to make it fit. In the days, weeks, months, and years to follow, emotions still run high, and these various individuals all must discover how to move on with their lives, or not.
The film, using a mix of documentary footage and live action, is well executed. The performances from this stellar all-star cast are also solid, but with such little screen time dedicated to each character it’s hard to leave a significant impression. I gravitated toward Dale’s Robert Oswald, who in a single day must begin to process the death of a beloved President by his brother’s own hand. Weaver also manages to capitalize on her limited screen time by playing Marguerite as a woman who mythologizes Lee’s and her own role in this historical event for a salivating press, but is so far afield from reality you can’t help but pity as well as despise her.
Parkland is a well-crafted, if unmemorable film that above all succeeds in providing an overview of how far and wide the death of President Kennedy affected a select few. Whether from the distance of a camera lens or the close quarters of an ER, the audience is given some insight into the varying ways individuals experience historical events. But when each story is worthy of its own film and then some, we can’t help but want more.
Parkland opens today at Philly area theaters.