“Parkland” is a straightforward retelling of one the most scrutinized events in American history, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and its immediate aftermath.
Written and directed by former journalist Peter Landesman, the film eschews the lurid speculations and over-the-top embellishments portrayed in Oliver Stone’s “JFK” for a more personal portrait of ordinary lives forever altered by the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Shot cinéma vérité style, the film is interspersed with by now familiar, real-life footage of the president’s motorcade winding through a jubilant crowd that fateful morning in Dallas, and the shocking assassination that followed. Landesman weaves together several adjacent stories that are connected to the Kennedy assassination but are, perhaps, not as well-known.
They include the ensuing chaos at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital as its doctors and nurses, through their shock and horror, made valiant efforts to save the mortally wounded president. Landesman doesn’t spare the blood and gore. The intensely gripping scenes in the emergency room are graphic and, ultimately, heart-rending.
The film also portrays the anguished and conflicted reactions of the middle-age motorcade spectator who unwittingly captured one of the most infamous murders in history on his home movie camera. It also brings into sharp focus the doubts and recriminations experienced by the head Secret Service agent assigned to Kennedy’s motorcade and the FBI agent who learns that the suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, is the same man he had been personally investigating weeks before the shooting. Also on display are the resignation and dismay of the assailant’s brother, and bizarre reactions of their publicity-seeking mother.
In the heat of the harrowing moments they experienced, some made fateful decisions that inadvertently helped fuel the speculations of conspiracy theorists for decades to come, particularly FBI Agent James Hosty, who was goaded by his superiors to destroy evidence of his prior investigation of Oswald.
The strong ensemble cast is headed by Zac Efron, who portrays Dr. James Carrico, the young resident at Parkland who was the first physician to attend the dying president; Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden as the stoic ER nurse, Doris Nelson; Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Service Agent Fred Sorrels; and, perhaps, most impressively, Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, the Dallas businessman who documented the Kennedy assassination on his Bell & Howell home movie camera. We are told in the film’s epilogue that Zapruder never used the camera again.
The film is based, in part, on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book, “Four Days in November,” a comprehensive examination of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. In his adaptation, Landesman does not much venture beyond the scope of what is already publicly known about those events, which some might find unsatisfying.
Still, others might view it as a fitting homage to one of the country’s most well-documented and traumatic public events by sticking to the facts, particularly as we approach the 50th anniversary of that dark day in American history.
Starring: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton
Director: Peter Landesman
Running time: 93 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violent images, language and smoking.
The Lowdown: A recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.