Parkland: Disappointing Kennedy Assassination Reenactment

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, a traumatic event that changed the course of American politics, and an open sore that still haunts our collective consciousness, because few Americans believe in any of the official versions, or the conspiracy theories for that matter. Many people all over the world still remember vividly the exact place in which they were on November 22, when the tragic news broke publicly.

Naturally and perhaps inevitably, several new documentaries and dramatic features would be released this year about the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. One of the first to revisit the event is “Parkland,” a film that is more intriguing in intent than in execution.

An ensemble drama, the film is named for the Dallas hospital where both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald died of their fatal wounds. As a movie, “Parkland” at once tries to do too much and not enough. There are simply too many characters, onlookers, and bystanders to develop any sense of deep characterization of any persona, or encourage our engagement in them.

The cast is composed of so many talented actors and snippets of events that the feature could have been easily be done as an HBO miniseries. It includes Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, David Harbour, Tom Welling, Jackie Earle Haley and Colin Hanks, and others. Funding for this project was provided by production company of Tom Hanks (Colin’s father), Playtone, which was also behind the honorable WWII series, “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

“Parkland” begins with familiar newsreel footage of Kennedy’s visit to Texas on November 22, 1963, when he accepted a cowboy hat in Fort Worth before decamping for Dallas. As the President, Mrs. Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson make their way to the motorcade, we observe a young emergency resident doctor, Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) blaringly prepares for what he believes would be another routine day at Parkland Hospital.

Meanwhile, an FBI agent named James Hosty (Ron Livingston) glances at one of the “Wanted for Treason” flyers, in anticipation of Kennedy’s arrival, and a garment executive called Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) excitedly takes his new Super-8 camera, heading to Dealey Plaza to gain a strategic spot for his photos. Little do they know that they would become crucial witnesses to a horrible assassination.

The rest of the basic facts are known. Tragedy strikes big in Dealey Plaza, forcing the hospital staff to go into overdrive. Oswald is apprehended, to the dismay of his brother Bob (James Badge Dale) and his mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver). When Oswald himself gets shot, that same Parkland staff tries to save his life as valiantly as as they did with the life of his victim’s.

“Parkland,” directed and written by Peter Landesman, who adapted Vincent Bugliosi’s book, “Four Days in November,” feels like a first film, which it is, one made by an undisciplined and not particularly skillful filmmaker (at least at this phase).

Sharply uneven, “Parkland” is a diffuse, rambling tale, with as many dramatically absorbing moments as some minor and trivial ones, forming sort of a kaleidoscope, but don’t add much to the overall impact. The fact that there is no central character to root for, or main storyline to ground the peripheral incidents makes things worse.

To be fair, Landesman’s reenactment of the assassination and the three days that followed that event seems faithful. But if the movie is serious in intention, it is not consequential in effects. In many ways, it’s exactly the opposite of Oliver Stone’s 1991 “J.F.K.”, a feverish-nightmarish tale based on conspiracy theory, which was Oscar nominated for Best Picture.

Breaking no new grounds thematically, “Parkland” focuses on largely known facts, without much speculation, editorializing, or insights. Considering its subject and the hype that surrounds most Hollywood movies touching hot-buttons, “Parkland” is too modest in ambition and too workmanlike in execution, technical and otherwise.