On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, to coincide with a slew of TV documentaries, we are presented with Parkland;a film focusing on 5 groups closely involved in the incident over the few days that followed.
Peter Landesman’s directorial debut, adapted from the book ‘Four Days in November’ by Vincent Bugliosi, concentrates on the stories of the secret service, tasked with taking control of the President’s body, Abraham Zapruder who caught the assassination on tape, the staff at the hospital (the Parkland of the title) that treated both the president and Lee Harvey Oswald, the FBI agents who feel they missed their opportunity to catch him, and the assassin’s family.
There is rather a lot of heavy handed ‘serious acting’ in Parkland; myriad scenes showing secret service agents having it out with anyone and everyone who stands in their way of continuing to control JFK’s body (though Rory Cochrane, as the local Medical Examiner, does particularly well to avoid being dragged into the pure, high voltage anger). So it is rather a relief when you move to the more intimate stories of individual’s experiences of those days. Jacki Weaver gives a striking performance as Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother; a woman who seems to have little comprehension of the far reaching effects of her son’s actions except for how she can work them to her advantage. James Badge Dale is equally engaging as Oswald’s brother, trying to handle both this monumental family crisis and the startling reaction of his mother.
Some of the stories do seem, however, to just be making up time. Paul Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder, despite what you would think would be his fascinating involvement as the secret service come looking for his film, simply becomes the centre of a tale of a man and his family finding their place in America. It also slips up with some of the photographic decisions in the hospital. While the staff are thoroughly convincing in their efforts to save Kennedy, Jackie is always shot from behind as if we are not meant to realise that this is an actress (Kat Steffens). This gives the whole thing a TV reconstruction feeling and is made worse when they suddenly decide to show her full on and then revert back to avoiding her face at all costs.
The real beauty of Parkland is in its moments of banality. Getting the President’s body onto Air Force One and the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald are both genuinely moving. After all the shouting is done, the quiet moments are the ones that truly hit home.
A potentially compelling film that just misses the mark on too many occasions, Parkland is a simple addition to the complex canon of JFK works.