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Indie Snapshot: Parkland

by admin October 4, 2013 12:24 pm
Indie Snapshot: Parkland

Sneaking into theaters before the impending wave of news reports and documentaries tied to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination next month, Peter Landesman's Parkland is a dramatic recreation of the events of November 22, 1963 with a variety of big-name actors playing individuals (both real-life and fictionalized) who were on the ground in Dallas when Lee Harvey Oswald fired his fatal bullet at the President's motorcade. In that way, it's not entirely dissimilar to the all-star disaster movies of the '70s, when A-listers like Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman, Dene Martin and Faye Dunaway played out cataclysmic scenarios for our enjoyment. For obvious reasons, Parkland isn't focused on entertainment value, instead treating Kennedy's death and its impact on both the movie's characters and the country as a whole with the appropriate respect and resonance. But there's also little insight to be gleaned from this stolid docudrama that wouldn't be covered in one of those soon-to-arrive non-fiction accounts.

Parkland splits its attention between four different camps of characters, starting with the medical staff at the titular Dallas hospital where Kennedy's motorcade rushed to following the shooting. Dr. Carrico (Zac Efron, supremely out of his depth as both a doctor and in a period piece) is the first to start operating on the dying president, aided by Nurse Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) and a surgeon, Dr. Perry (Colin Hanks). Meanwhile, POTUS's Secret Service detail -- including Roy Kellerman (Tom Welling) and Kenneth O'Donnell (Mark Duplass) -- organize the transport of their boss's body, as well as new chief executive Lyndon B. Johnson and Mrs. Kennedy, back to Air Force One. Elsewhere in Dallas, clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), is still reeling from the soon-to-be iconic home movie footage he shot of the President's drive through Dealey Plaza and works with Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) to develop the film and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, FBI suit James Hosty (Ron Livingston) deals with the professional and personal fallout of the revelation that he could potentially have locked up Oswald three weeks before he headed to the Book Depository. And, last but not least, Oswald's brother Bob (James Badge Dale) gradually awakens to the fact that his sibling's actions have cursed the family name for all eternity.

A former journalist making his directorial debut, Landesman structures the narrative as a moment-by-moment account that, particularly in the early scenes, resembles a news report. That makes the immediate aftermath of JFK's assassination the movie's most dramatic section, as Parkland's staff struggles to revive the mortally wounded President while the Secret Service copes with what for them is an apocalyptic scenario. (Perhaps Parkland's strongest scene is a brief tussle over who gets to claim JFK's body, with the medical examiner insisting that it has to remain in Dallas until after an official autopsy, while the agents make it clear they'll be forcibly removing him from the premises if necessary.) After that though, Parkland goes downhill as Landesman loses the momentum offered by the chronology of the immediate fallout of JFK's death. As written and performed, the characters aren't particularly nuanced or interesting, with the exception of Dale's Bob Oswald, who strangely comes across as the individual most wounded by the events of November 22. To be fair to Landesman for a moment, he doesn't seem to be striving to make the definitive movie about the JFK assassination; he's just trying to bring that day to life for a generation of viewers who regard it as ancient history. It's a modest ambition that the film nevertheless falls short of meeting.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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