Mark Reviews Movies



3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Landesman

Cast: James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Paul Giamati, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, David Harbour, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingson, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Tom Welling

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 10/4/13 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 4, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is a moment frozen in time. Even for those who cannot remember or were not born when the President of the United States was murdered while he rode through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, we think only of the events in the immediacy of the moment—the drive down the street, the shots themselves, and the shock that immediately followed. We don't even consider the buildup, and if we think about what happened after, we picture the funeral or, perhaps, the eternal flame burning at his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Everything that has remained in the public consciousness of that dreadful event is a symbol of loss and dismay.

The singular goal of Parkland, a docudrama that follows an assortment of witnesses and other indirect participants, is to thaw that moment—to force us to consider the ramifications of Kennedy's murder in a context that exists outside of symbolism and iconography. Myths, conspiracy theories, and assumptions have been building and firmly established in the 50 years since that terrible day in November, and by presenting the auxiliary stories surrounding the assassination, writer/director Peter Landesman (working from the book Four Days in November by Vincent Bugliosi) silently acknowledges those notions while clarifying details to give us a more reasonable side.

Here is the story of the hospital that received the President and attempted to save his life even though everyone knew it was a lost cause. Over here is the story of the man who captured on 8 mm film what would turn out to be the fatal shot. There is the story of an FBI agent who tried in vain to interview the man who would be the President's assassin because of the file he amassed over his visit to the Soviet Union. Over there is the story of a brother—but not the one we might initially believe to be relevant to this story.

The result of these competing narrative threads is decidedly mixed, especially during the period between the conclusion of a frantic sequence in the emergency room and a finale that presents three simultaneous burials. We start to wonder if there is any real purpose to Landesman's method. As the separate stories move forward on their own, they grow farther apart in relation to each other. By the time the final montage arrives, though, we realize that Landesman's point is not to connect dots, as they have already been linked by history. He leaves it to us to find meaning in the connections, and that's only if there is any real meaning to be found in the strange twists and coincidences fate always seems to provide in such significant times.

For example, the film's focus the doctors (represented primarily by Zac Efron, as the young doctor on duty who cannot be stopped from trying to get the President's heart beating again) and nurses at Parkland Memorial Hospital seems to be over once Kennedy's body is taken away in a tense scene between Dallas Police, who want an autopsy performed, and Secret Service agents, who simply want to bring their charge to his final place of rest as quickly as possible (His successor, refusing to leave unless Jacqueline Kennedy is joining the flight back to Washington, D.C., waits in the hospital's records room under armed security—just one of many intriguing little details the film offers). Then, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald is shot and brought to the same hospital—in fact, the same emergency room. "He's not living or dying in here," the head nurse (Marcia Gay Harden) decrees, and everyone wordlessly agrees.

There's a similar sense of coincidence with James Hosty (Ron Livingston), the FBI agent who had been trying to contact Oswald and, as a result, received a death threat from him that went uninvestigated. He exists solely as a means for the final metaphor—the third burial, in which the agency disavows any and all knowledge of their failure to look into Oswald.

Other characters, fortunately, are far more compelling on their own. Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who sold his infamous film of the assassination to Life magazine, is given a fair shake. He doesn't sell the footage for profit; he's simply trying to banish it from his life while arguing that the most violent images be censored out of respect for a man's basic dignity. Oswald's brother Robert (James Badge Dale) hears the news of his brother's arrest on the radio and faces the suspicious looks and semi-threatening language of the local police, who suggest he move out of state. Instead, he visits his brother in jail, unable to recognize whatever it is that has replaced him.

The motif within that final montage is of two men—forever bound by history—being buried—seemingly at the same time in different parts of the country. They both leave behind families who would be left to constantly fail to comprehend the reasons behind the murder while struggling in their own ways to continue with their lives (There's a pitiful scene in which Robert begs the few reporters at his brother's funeral to help him carry the coffin). They would leave mysteries—in the unknown promise of a young President and in the burning of his assassin's FBI file. After seeing the sequence, Kennedy's words—never uttered or hinted at in the film—keep echoing in the mind: "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal." Parkland ends with that connection, and that point—haunting and pervasive—might be the only one needed to be made.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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