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Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Parkland

50 Years After JFK's Assassination, The Story is Told From the Perspective of the Doctors and Nurses, FBI and Secret Service Agents, the Photographer, and the Oswald Family

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 4, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Peter Landesman
Writers: Peter Landesman, 
Vincent Bugliosi (book)
Cast: James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, 
Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, 
Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, 
Paul Giamatti

It has been 50 years since U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Countless books, movies, documentaries, news reports, and conspiracy theories have emerged since that time. "Parkland" manages to tell the same story from a different perspective. It focuses on the peripheral people who were suddenly thrust into an unimaginable situation on November 22, 1963 and in the days that followed – the hospital staff that operated on Kennedy, the Secret Service agents sworn to protect the President, the FBI agents who had Lee Harvey Oswald in their grasp, the photographer who filmed the shooting, and the Oswald family themselves.

The movie remembers a time when there was almost universal respect and reverence for the President. Whether that was ever really the case or not, it certainly isn't now. Back then, a photographer could request that the still-frame of a kill-shot remain unpublished to preserve a man's dignity; that would never happen in today's open media and society where it's a constant race to the bottom to be first with a story. 
This is a very fast-paced, frantic, gritty look at the President's assassination and its aftermath. It wastes no time. Within the first five minutes of the film, JFK is shot and killed. From there, it switches to Parkland Hospital and then cycles back and forth between the various "people on the ground" who found themselves involved in what instantly became American history.

"Parkland" pulls no punches. In one scene, the President's wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, is seen crying into her hands with her husband's blood all over them. It's a shocking, jarring moment that clashes starkly with the pretty pink outfit she was wearing that day. Famous forever for her photogenic features and elegant style, here she is presented as a mere mortal – a wilted flower withering from the loss of the love of her life.

However, Mr. and Mrs. President are mostly in the background. This particular treatment of the JFK assassination shines the spotlight on photographer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), Dr. Charles "Jim" Carrico (Zac Efron, looking too young and scruffy), FBI agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston), Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels (a weathered Billy Bob Thornton), Lee Harvey Oswald's brother and mother (played by James Badge Dale and Jacki Weaver), and many others (Marcia Gay Harden, David Harbour, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Colin Hanks, and Jackie Earle Haley all pop up in smaller roles).

Despite all of the players involved, this is not a character-driven story. We never get to know much about any of these people beyond their direct or indirect involvement with Kennedy. That's okay though, because "Parkland" is simply meant to put us in the middle of the madness, similar to the way "United 93" depicted 9/11.

Two highlights: amusing archival footage of Kennedy deflecting a request to wear a cowboy hat, and Abe Zapruder's eyes growing wide with horror as he sees the moment of death replayed in the footage he shot.

(And for you folks who believe Lee Harvey Oswald didn't do it, the movie dangles a few half-bitten carrots in that direction without ever explicitly supporting or agreeing with those alternate theories: Oswald was caught rather quickly with an almost immediate rush to judgment, his mother insisted he was framed, and his previous dealings with the FBI had nothing to do with Kennedy.)

"Parkland" powerfully demonstrates what it must have been like for the doctors and nurses who operated on – and lost – Kennedy, the emotional impact it had on the photographer who filmed the President as he was being murdered, the agents who had interacted with Lee Harvey Oswald just weeks prior to the assassination, and the toll it took on Robert and Marguerite Oswald as they struggled to come to terms with what happened.

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