Director: Peter Landesman Writer: Peter Landesman (screenplay), Vincent Bugliosi (book) Starring: James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Paul Giamatti Runtime: 93 min Rating: 14A
“Where were you when JFK was shot?” is a question well known to many of a certain generation. Although the answers may vary greatly, the very fact that all have a response draws individuals together. Peter Landesman responds to this question in his film Parkland, where he relates the assassination of President Kennedy and the events of the next three days from the perspectives of several persons who played key roles. The audience is presented with numerous new and previously unconsidered viewpoints, causing one to consider these events from new directions and to realise the devastating effects one event may have on many lives.
This film is based upon Vincent Bugliosi’s non-fiction book Four Days in November, and retains the realism of the original by adopting the tone of a documentary. A handheld camera is often used to present unfocused and off-centre shots that appear to be real, historical footage. Like a documentary, the film focuses on several perspectives in order to find the whole truth. We see the reactions of many individuals, including the young and inexperienced doctor Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) who is forced to tend to Kennedy upon his arrival at Parkland, the assassin’s stunned brother Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) who must struggle with the deeds of his kin, and the accidental videographer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) who becomes traumatized after capturing the event on tape.
When the outcome of an event in film is already known to most, creating interest and suspense presents a challenge. It is the emotional and wholly believable acting within this film that allows it to succeed in causing the audience to momentarily forget that they already know the ending. The shock and horror felt by these characters translates to the audience, and it is easy to become caught up in Jim’s hopeful fervour as he attempts to revive Kennedy, or to feel pity for Robert while he mourns the loss of a brother whom he simultaneously loves and hates. Successful film allows a viewer an escape from the real world, and although Parkland aims to depict the real world, it does so in a way that allows one to become caught up in the emotion of the story as it unfolds before them.
Ultimately, Parkland reveals the profound love and respect the American people felt towards President Kennedy. However, this film is not content to stop here, choosing instead to shift from its focus on Kennedy and the reactions of his secret service to a look at the family of his assassin. Symmetry is created, as the film begins and ends with two bloody deaths in Parkland Memorial Hospital. However, the stark differences in the reactions to these deaths stands out when two very dissimilar funerals are juxtaposed in a brilliantly intercut scene. The passages featuring the Oswalds, especially the relatable Robert, fascinate simply because their viewpoint is undoubtedly a perspective that is often ignored. It is easy to forget that even a killer such as Lee Oswald had a family too, and Parkland must be commended for telling both stories and causing an audience to seriously consider these events in a new way.
Films such as Parkland take known historical events and change the way in which we look at them. Many are aware of the events that transpired on November 22, 1963, but few have considered them from the perspective of the doctor who received the call, the brother of the assassin, or the individual who inadvertently caught it all on tape. By revealing these different stories, Landesman shows the effect one action may have on many lives. In the second act, he bravely diverges from his focus on the Kennedy’s, allowing the second death of the film equal weight. Actions such as this shift in attention demonstrate the importance of considering many sides of a story, and will hopefully have a profound impact on the thought-process of a viewer.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival