With this being the year of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, one can imagine that there will be a flood of remembrances and tributes in book, video or in the case of Parkland, celluloid and video. And while Parkland is not an ‘According to Hoyle' tribute, it certainly looks at things from a different perspective that many people would not have considered otherwise.
Peter Landesman (Trade) adapted Vincent Bugliosi's book "Four Days in November" into a screenplay which he also directed. Rather than spend a chunk of time looking at how Jackie Kennedy dealt with the assassination, the film spends approximately four days in Dallas, and sees Kennedy and the associated secret service come and go. We see the doctor who first responded to Kennedy at the hospital, Jim Carrico (Zac Efron, The Lorax), along with the nurse that worked with him, Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden, Big Love). Dallas FBI agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston, Swingers) struggles with the discovery of evidence that might have led him to detain Lee Harvey Oswald, while he deals with the subsequent cover-up that was ordered at higher levels. The agent in charge in Dallas, a longtime veteran of the bureau named Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton, Eagle Eye) tries to investigate what occurred. During the course of the investigation, he encounters Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti, The Ides of March) who was filming Kennedy's motorcade at the time of the shooting. Through the chaos, Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale, The Grey) struggles with the sudden news of his brother's acts, and tries to keep their mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook) on a relatively even keel.
The film puts events in a variety of settings, with the most emotionally effective being the emergency room where Carrico, Nelson and Dr. Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks, Dexter) work to try and keep Kennedy alive and barely 24 hours later, do the same for Oswald, albeit with less passion and scores of fewer eyeballs on the situation. Hosty dealing with this revelation about Oswald and the Dallas office is also something that is stunning for him personally. And Zapruder's initial glee at being able to see the President come through town, only to find the optimism shattered, is something that is both crystallized in Giamatti's performance and simmers just beneath most any character seen onscreen. Kennedy helped people see that they were capable of great things, and to see his live extinguished in such a manner was jarring to so many. That is undeniable and shown precisely in Parkland.
However, Parkland seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. Consider for a moment when you combine three things: the emotional gut punch of the emergency room, the sadness of what Robert has to deal with from his family and law enforcement officers and what Hosty experiences in a ‘we had him but YOU lost him' situation from his bosses, the feelings cannot be denied. Carrying the last part out for a moment, watching Hosty's superiors pile on him and getting into hindsight judgment calls does tend to resonate in a post 9/11 environment. But it does this while going through the initial steps of the cover-up. Secret Service man Roy Kellerman (Tom Welling, Smallville) undertakes this almost immediately while the body is getting cold in taking it back to Air Force One and going back to Washington, giving the Oath to Lyndon Johnson while the plane is in the air. And to be fair, the 24 hours for the hospital staff were a rollercoaster of feelings, but the actions that occurred after pronouncing Kennedy seem to do more harm to the arguments for a cover-up than anything. Folks were stunned, hysterical, the felt raw from witnessing in the loss of or attempt to save Kennedy's life. But the attempts to shoehorn in the conspiracy are detrimental to what it is the story may be trying to tell.
The performances as a whole are good, but the movie suffers from some overcasting that hampers what could have been a solid movie. For instance, Giamatti is decent as Zapruder, but one of Giamatti's workers at the clothing store he owned is Marilyn Sitzman, played by Bitsie Tulloch of Grimm notoriety. But she does little in Parkland other than mutter a line, often times hysterically, thus wasting her in the role. A more egregious example would be a Service Agent named Kenneth O'Donnell, played by Mark Duplass (The League). Duplass is a good actor and director, and he is here and gone in the first act before many get a chance to appreciate him, begging the question of what he was doing here to begin with?
Parkland seems to be mildly reminiscent of Bobby, where various people with some connection to another Kennedy share in the shock of the sudden loss. But rather than spend more time dealing with the shock, Parkland shows us some of what we already know while squandering parts of what was an already decent ensemble. I honestly wanted to like it more, but it never gives you the chance to.
Parkland comes with an 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, the result of which being not bad. The disc handles the archived pre-Dealey Plaza footage in its natural full frame appearance and it looks good. The film is not the most colorful of the bunch, but juggles the deep blacks of secret service suits and the various deep levels of red from the blood adequately and without distortion or artifacts. The image is devoid of any significant edge enhancement and is solid viewing.
The disc comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track which I was not initially sure of what to expect from. But it turns out to be surprisingly dynamic, with directional effects and channel panning being present (though not abundant), and the low-end even has moments of bassy engagement. It is on the whole a dialogue-driven joint and this is communicated sufficiently and in a well-balanced manner, and the disc proves to be technically adept.
Landesman contributes a commentary for the feature that, while a bit slow at times, remains enthusiastic and chock full of information. He covers the intent for the movie and some of the scenes in it, along with some recollection of certain shots. He talks up each of the notable cast quite nicely, including how he worked with them and an occasional anecdote tossed in. He adds historical perspective on the events and characters when necessary and while he narrates the action onscreen from time to time, it is clear he is passionate about the material and it is definitely worth a listen. Save for some previews, six deleted scenes (6:38) are the only other extra, and they are forgettable.
While the heart of Parkland may be in the right place, how it expresses its feelings sometimes comes across as muddled and even tamping down on what few moments of strength it has. This is not due to the cast as their performances are without complaint, the story seems to stifle them. Technically, the disc is good and the commentary for the film is better than most I have heard recently. At a minimum, definitely worth a rental for a change of pace look at this unfortunate anniversary.