Film review - Parkland (15, 93 mins)

You’ll forget where you were

Friday, 22nd November 2013, 10:00 am
Parkland: Paul Giamatti
Parkland: Paul Giamatti

Every generation remembers where it was when the course of human history changed forever with an awe-inspiring triumph or devastating tragedy.

When man landed on the moon and Martin Luther King Jr delivered his defiant “I have a dream” speech; when Israel mourned its murdered athletes at the Munich Olympic Games and the Watergate scandal claimed the presidency of Richard Nixon; when catastrophe struck the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and east jubilantly met west at the fall of the Berlin Wall; when Nelson Mandela emerged a free man and tears flowed for Princess Diana; when United Airline Flight 175 impacted the south tower of the World Trade Center and social media kindled the Arab Spring.

Some pages in history leave an indelible mark.

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On November 22, 1963, America recoiled at news that President John F Kennedy had been fatally shot during a visit to Dallas, Texas.

Writer-director Peter Landesman dramatises events before, during and after the fateful motorcade, through the eyes of men and women whose paths intersected with the Kennedys that autumn day.

Shortly after Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) captures on camera the moment the bullet strikes, Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) races Kennedy to Parkland Hospital where surgical resident Dr Charles Carrico (Zac Efron) and nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) face an impossible task on the operating table.

Dr Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks) is powerless to assist, and Father Oscar Huber (Jackie Earle Haley) prepares to administer the last rites.

Elsewhere, Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) races to the police station where his younger brother Lee Harvey (Jeremy Strong) has been arrested, and their mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) spews venom to any news outlet that will listen.

“My son was an agent of the US government and should be buried at Arlington Cemetery alongside President Kennedy,” she snarls. And in the Dallas division of the FBI, Special Agent Gordon Shanklin (David Harbour) learns that one of his men, James Hosty (Ron Livingston), ignored a letter from Lee Harvey, sent prior to the shooting.

Adapted from Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days In November, Parkland is a star-laden dramatic reconstruction that unfolds from too many perspectives to be utterly engrossing.

Landesman crams historical footnotes into the 94 minutes when he should be focussing on a handful of protagonists. Less would be more.

There are some remarkable images here: nurse Nelson tending to Jacqueline (Kat Steffens) in the operating room, the Secret Service struggling to carry Kennedy’s coffin aboard Air Force One.

But there is also a frustrating dearth of gut-wrenching emotion on the screen that might have knitted together the myriad plot strands.

Ten years from now, when audiences are asked, “Where were you when you saw Parkland?”, they will probably draw a blank.

Drama. James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, Jacki Weaver, Paul Giamatti, Colin Hanks, Tom Welling, Jackie Earle Haley, David Harbour, Mark Duplass, Kat Steffens, Jeremy Strong. Director: Peter Landesman.

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