“PARKLAND” My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Tivoli)
93 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Sometimes you think you’re over a traumatic experience, that you long ago consigned painful thoughts and emotion to the distant past. And then something comes along – something like the movie “Parkland” – to tear the scars open once again.
“Parkland” is about the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Over the last 50 years – I was a high school sophomore when it happened — the subject has spawned many movies, many of them (like Oliver Stone’s “JFK”) weaving conspiratorial scenarios.
This film, though, delivers a gut punch not with outlandish claims but simply by meticulously adhering to the facts. There’s little obvious effort to overdramatize; nevertheless, “Parkland” moved me on a very deep and still-raw level.
Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days in November, Peter Landesman‘s docudrama gives the illusion of capturing the events of November 22 , 1963 in minute-by-minute fashion.
The title refers to Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, where emergency room personnel found themselves attempting to save the life of the President and then, almost exactly 48 hours later, were faced with doing the same for his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
In recreating those unsettling two days, writer/director Landesman (this is his first film as director; he wrote the 2007 human trafficking drama “Trade”) cannily weaves original newsreel footage, TV and radio broadcasts, and new handheld footage to create a hauntingly seamless whole.
He’s assembled a cast of incredible depth and virtually no ego: Zac Efron as a young hospital resident who finds himself working on the President; Marcia Gay Harden as a tough-love-dispensing ER nurse; Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass and Gil Bellows as FBI and Secret Service agents; Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, the
dressmaker whose horrifying home movie captured the only images of the fatal bullet; and James Badge Dale as Oswald’s brother Robert and Jacki Weaver as Oswald’s mother, Marguerite.
This is powerful stuff, packed with moments of confusion, terror, and grief. Not to mention some insider stuff I wasn’t aware of.
For example, I didn’t know that the Secret Service agents and Dallas cops literally came to blows in the ER over the coroner’s demand that the President’s body not be removed until an autopsy had been performed.
I wasn’t aware of the race to get Zapruder’s film developed, since it contained essential evidence, or that the lab technician who took on the job warned that its 8mm format posed problems
that could result in the loss of the entire reel.
Or that Secret Service agents hurriedly tore out two rows of seats from Air Force One to make room for JFK’s coffin: “We’re not carrying him down below like a piece of luggage!”
And perhaps nothing is quite so disturbing as Zapruder’s first look at his soon-to-be-notorious footage, crying out in anguish as the projected image of the shooting reflects off his eyeglasses.
For sheer lunacy on a Shakespearean scale, it’s hard to beat Marguerite Oswald, a mercenary madwoman certain that her assassin son was a secret agent of the United States being framed by his bosses.
“Parkland” runs for just 93 minutes …any longer and I don’t know if I could have taken it. But in recreating a time and place with astonishing fidelity, first-timer Landesman makes us understand what it was like to be on a turning point of history.
| Robert W. Butler