Running Time: 93 mins. Rating: 5 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Landesman
Distributor: Exclusive Releasing
Cast: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, James Badge Dale, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Austin Nichols, Rory Cochrane, Bitsie Tulloch, Gil Bellows, Matt Barr, Jeremy Strong
The events of September 11, 2001 will in all likelihood be the cataclysmic historic event that will stay etched in one’s mind to anyone who is 18 and over. The whole world irreversibly changed for the worse that September morning. Ask anyone who is now close to 60 years old (or older of course) and they will tell you that they had that same feeling on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The upcoming 50th anniversary of that tragedy undoubtedly was the impetus of the new film, PARKLAND, which was the hospital where Kennedy was rushed to after being shot assumedly by Lee Harvey Oswald. Ironically Oswald would wind up there as well two days later after being fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Screenwriter/director Peter Landesman wisely keeps the focus on the chaos the events of Friday, November 22 right up to JFK’s funeral the following Monday. He wisely eschews the conspiracy theories that were espoused in Oliver Stone’s 1991 JFK and instead concentrates on how the events affected of ordinary people who happened to find themselves on the front lines of history.
Rather than open the film with the traditional opening credits, Landesman takes a cinema verite approach by eavesdropping on the emergency room of Parkland Hospital on what seems to be a quiet morning as we see a sleepy resident, Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) and head nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) get ready for duty. In what will seem to be a “Twilight Zone” episode for them, they will find their ordinary lives upended forever in a few hours, as they will try against poor odds to save the life of the most important man in the world at the time.
Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) is a 58 year-old Dallas garment manufacturer who lets his office take on early lunch break so that they can all watch the President in his motorcade come by Dealey Plaza which is nearby to them. Zapruder is a proud American who is eternally grateful to the USA for allowing his parents and his entire family to emigrate here and avoid certain death from anti-Semitic pogroms in the USSR. He is also a huge Kennedy supporter, which put him in a minority in Dallas at the time.
Zapruder was also a photography buff who couldn’t wait to use his new Bell & Howell so that he could have a keepsake of JFK’s trip to his hometown. In spite of what sounded like firecrackers and screams, he had the presence of mind to keep filming the motorcade as it sped away from Dealey Plaza. Zapruder immediately knew that he had a tape of history that no one else did. It did not take long for the FBI to realize that as well. To his credit, he cooperated with the federal authorities. He also realized that he would no longer have a normal life and that is why Landesman claims that he sold the frames from his film to LIFE Magazine for a hefty price as a way of compensating him and his family for their loss of anonymity.
No one was more tortured about the events in Dallas that day than Forrest Sorells (Billy Bob Thornton) who headed up the Secret Service’s Dallas office. You can feel his anguish as he recounts how he never lost his man in 30 years of being on the job and how he snaps when he sees the Zapruder film for the first time.
The character that we surprisingly feel for is Robert Oswald (James Bade Dale), the older brother of Lee Harvey (Jeremy Strong). Robert is a hardworking family man who knows that his brother is a wacko but certainly not to the extent that he would come to discover along with the rest of the world. He never doubts for a minute that Lee was the triggerman but he still visits him in his Dallas jail cell to inform him that he will try to find a lawyer for him. Lee appears to be insane as he tells Robert how worried he is that his daughter needs new shoes. “You are being charged with killing the President of the United States and you are talking about your daughter’s shoes! What about the kind of life that they are going to have now?”
Robert also has to deal with a calculating mentally unhinged mother (Jacki Weaver) who tells the world that Lee is a secret agent for the CIA. When JFK is killed by him, her first reaction was to think of the money that she could make by writing a book. You can tell from Robert’s face that he would love to strangle her if it weren’t a crime. He is an ordinary guy trapped in a very extraordinary situation.
Peter Landesman nicely blends in news footage of the events of those four long days in November a half-century ago with a taut script that comes in at 93minutes. Seeing the late anchors Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley, as well as terrific and sadly forgotten journalists as Bill Ryan and Tom Petit, will bring back memories for a lot of us.
PARKLAND is an engrossing film and a great way for those under 55 to understand why JFK’s death really was the end of America’s innocence. The only criticism I have is that Jack Ruby is never mentioned. Perhaps his story may be Landesman’s next film.
If you like this recommendations: JFK, Love Field, In The Line Of Fire