p a r k l a n d
22nd November 2013
Zac Effron, Paul Giamatti
6th November 2013 (LFF)
Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Despite not being born anywhere near JFK’s assassination in 1963, the event has left an indelible mark on me on account of Oliver Stone’s 189 minute masterpiece of conspiracy theory JFK (1991). I din’t get on too well with the repeated grainy image of Kennedy’s head exploding all over the back seat of his car but there is no doubting that Stone made a fantastically entertaining film. If you subscribed to the conspiracy theory, it was all gravy, if you didn’t, it was one hell of a tall tale. Years later Emilio Estevez had a go at chronicling Robert Kennedy’s demise in his ensemble piece Bobby (2006). This was, to put it mildly, less of a success.
And so, step forward Peter Landesman, who this year has attempted an Estevez on JFK in his film Parkland. Landesman’s stated aim is to approach the other people who were directly affected by the assassination without getting bogged down in the swirling quagmire of conspiracy. He therefore takes the lone gunman angle as gospel and throws us into the carnage via Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas (a public hospital where JFK was somewhat surprisingly rushed). We meet Zac Effron’s trainee doctor, Paul Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder (he of the Footage), Ron Livingston’s FBI agent, Billy Bob Thornton’s secret service agent and James Badge Dale’s Robert Oswald (brother of Lee Harvey) amongst various others.
The camera bounces (and I mean literally bounces) back and forth as the events of the day unfold, beginning with people’s excitement about the day and ending with Robert Oswald attempting to bury his brother. The camera bounce is an issue. It rarely fixes in one place and the constant wobbling was beginning to make me feel distinctly queasy by the end credits. I assume the effect was supposed to convey the feeling of being in the middle of the chaos and distress but for me it was used far too much to be comfortable.
In terms of story, the movie is trying to do too much, spreading itself across so many bit parts, we never really get to see that much of each of them, effectively rendering the actual characters pretty meaningless. Sure we get to see Zapruder (one of the bigger roles in terms of screen time) fending off the press and trying to come to rems with what has happened, but knowing so little about him, we don’t really feel anything. He’s just a tailor who follows the incredibly open secret service around whilst they try to get the film developed. Equally with Effron’s frazzled doctor. We spend so little real time with him that his thoughts on the issue are drowned out by the gore of the operating theatre. And I do mean gore. What this film lacks in character backstory it more than makes up for in graphic operating theatre scenes. We get plenty of time with the emergency room team as they mop up JFK’s brain and bits of skull from the floor but does it really add up to anything we haven’t already seen on this subject?
At times the whole thing wobbles into uneasy and presumably unintentional comedy. Oswald’s mother is great fun as a total loon who believes her son is a CIA agent but is this really the right film for that kind of over the top performance? Sandwiched in between Giamatti’s grieving Zapruder and Livingston’s super-earnest FBI agent, it sticks out. As does the secret service’s attempts to spirit away the instantly delivered coffin holding their ex-boss. At one stage, part of Airforce 1 is sawn off in order for the sweating agents to get the coffin on the aeroplane. I’ve no idea if this is authentic but it’s a bizarre detail to include.
Of the actors, James Badge Dale stands out, probably partly because he has the most interesting role as the soon to be vilified brother of Lee Harvey Oswald. Sadly he is saddled with Jackie Weaver shrieking’s southern nutcase for most of his screen time but in the quieter moments, you do feel his pain at having to deal with his errant brother’s actions.
The movie, despite supposedly dodging the conspiracy theories does give them a nod. The secret service’s determination to remove the body pre-postmortem in order for the ex-President to be where he belongs and Livingston’s boss forcing him to burn the documentation that the FBI had on Oswald lest it embarrass the department are sneaked in there as knowing winks to shut up the ‘oh but why did this happen then’ brigade.
Parkland is a frustrating movie. The camera moves far too much, the characters are cardboard cut-outs blundering around a crisis that we’ve been over-exposed to and in the end, I just can’t summon up enough feeling about the whole thing to even dislike it. Actually, that’s not true. On the basis of the incessant graphic operating theatre scenes (along with all the above), I did not enjoy this film. It takes a reasonable idea and spends too much time on events within the event and too little time giving anything to its characters. One to avoid.
Check out the trailer here.