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'Parkland' Review: Too Many JFK Assassination-Adjacent Stories for One Movie


By Alonso Duralde

Theres an old theatrical adage about the supporting actor who says that Hamlet is a play about a gravedigger who meets a prince; even the bit players around major events have their own stories to tell.

That idea occasionally comes to fruition in Parkland, an ensemble drama named for the Dallas hospital where both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald died of their bullet wounds, but the film shoehorns in so many onlookers and bystanders that it doesnt really do justice to any of them. The result is a Hamlet with 50 gravediggers who run around shouting while the prince barely appears on stage.

As President and Mrs. Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson make their way to Big D, we see many of the locals preparing to start a new day. Some of them, like garment manufacturer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), are thrilled to see the attractive first couple while others, like overworked Parkland resident Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), are too busy to even notice the presidential visit.

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Tragedy strikes in Dealey Plaza, and the hospital staff kicks into overdrive, while government agents seek answers and feel guilty over allowing POTUS to go down on their watch. We see Oswald apprehended, to the shock and dismay of his brother Bob (James Badge Dale) and mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver). And when Oswald himself gets shot, that same Parkland staff tries to save his life as valiantly as they fought for the life of his victims.

The cast is so overstuffed with talented actors and recognizable faces that theres almost an Airport 1975 all-star-disaster quality to the proceedings; while this cast and this story could easily have filled, say, a ten-hour HBO miniseries (the funders of Parkland include Tom Hanks Playtone production company, which gave us Band of Brothers and The Pacific), this 93-minute film too often feels like a blink-and-youll-miss-em affair.

Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, David Harbour, Tom Welling, Jackie Earle Haley and Colin Hanks (not to mention venerable character actors like Gary Grubbs) are all doing their darnedest, but their presence suggests more than first-time writer-director Peter Landesman, adapting Vincent Bugliosis Four Days in November, can deliver.

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Unlike the similarly star-filled Lincoln, theres no central character or storyline around which all these notable satellites are orbiting. We find ourselves wanting to know more about, say, Hardens nurse or Duplass Secret Service agent, but Parkland doesnt have time or interest to stop long enough for that to happen.

Its no fault of the actors, then, that most of them fail to register as fully formed human beings. Badge Dale and Giamatti each get enough intimate moments with their co-stars that allow them to give something akin to complete performances, but most of their compatriots are reduced to glorified cameos. (Worse still are the ones Weaver, Harbour and Thornton come to mind whose only big moment involves yelling or otherwise overdoing it.)

For what its worth, being left wanting more automatically makes Parkland superior to Bobby, another Kennedy assassination movie with too many stars and too few ideas that left audiences wanting much, much less.

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Where Parkland succeeds most is in revealing a few not-suitable-for-Life-magazine moments, whether its Dr. Carrico performing rather squishy CPR on the presidents body after life has already left it, the awkward placement of Kennedys coffin onto a plane not designed to accommodate it, or a stricken Bob Oswald asking for (and receiving) the assistance of the paparazzi to put his brother into the ground after the funeral home refuses to provide pallbearers.

Also giving the movie some much-needed artistry is cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) who, with the help of the post-production staff, alternately fade and saturate the colors, giving Parkland the look of old Kodachrome snapshots that have spent decades in a desk drawer.

More moments and visual choices like these would have gone a long way toward making Parkland feel like a fresh and unique take on the oft-tread ground of the Kennedy assassination. What were left with, unfortunately, feels rushed and incomplete, like a highlight reel from a much longer piece rather than a satisfying story unto itself.

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