Every American generation has had an incredibly significant tragedy, a "where were you when" moment in history. My generation had 9/11, and our grandparents had the bombing of Pearl Harbor. To most of our parents though, the most tragic and horrific event of their lives was on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas while traveling by motorcade through the crowded streets. In the film Parkland (opening today), the tragedy is reinvented and viewed through the eyes of Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who famously filmed the assassination from atop a perch outside of a nearby building. It also tells the story of the Parkland Hospital doctors who rushed to save the President's life...and who soon after would have his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, on their same operating table.
Much of Parkland is based on actual fact or testimony from those involved. Did you know, for example, that President Kennedy had a faint heartbeat when he arrived at Parkland? The Secret Service - acting to protect the President - fueled much of the conspiracy theories that would follow, when they whisked the President's body away before a proper autopsy could be performed on-site.
This film shies away from tackling any particular conspiracy theory and instead tries to focus solely on the aftermath of the killing. We meet Zapruder and we see how the government tried to coral his footage. We linger in the operating room with the doctors. We see several agents act and react in the wake of the chaotic melee.
The story also shifts to Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) and Marguerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver), the brother and mother of Lee Harvey. Though few have sympathy for the killer, we sometimes forget the peripheral damage that the family endures. Although upon meeting Marguerite, you may begin to understand how some nuts don't fall too far from the tree.
The problem with Parkland is this shift in narrative...it doesn't quite know what story to tell and in juggling them all, it does itself a disservice. However, the first portion of the film - the entire assassination scene on the Dallas streets - is perhaps the most riveting and emotional depiction of the event ever created. Not having lived through it, this may very well be the close we'll ever come to feeling what it was like to have lived at that time. It effectively dramatizes the shooting while mixing in real film, TV and radio clips and the result is breath-taking.
But once the shooting is over and the President is announced dead, the film itself may have well been. Nothing that follows could possibly match the dramatic impact and despite the all-star cast, there isn't much more in the way of revelatory story-telling.
Parkland is worth seeing - and worth feeling. A not-so important film about an incredibly important event in American history.
Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale
Written & Directed by Peter Landesman (feature-film debuts in both areas)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 4, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time