Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 17, 2016)
Oliver Stone’s 1991 epic JFK remains easily the best-known feature film to look at the assassination of President John Kennedy, though the mini-series 11/22/63 may give it a minor run for its money. While JFK firmly endorsed the notion that the president died as part of a conspiracy, 2013’s Parkland goes in the other direction.
After a brief prologue, Parkland shows JFK’s assassination, and the rest of the movie follows the aftermath of this event through the subsequent four days. We see local businessman Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) as he films the murder and then works with others such as Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) to deal with the film.
We also spend a lot of time at Parkland Hospital, the location where Kennedy goes after the shooting. We meet physicians such as Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) and Dr. Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks) as they work on the president, and we see conflicts that emerge between medical officials and Kennedy’s staff. We also view Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline (Kat Steffens) as she deals with events.
Finally, we observe the investigation into the murder and the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong). This includes time spent with Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale) and mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver). We also meet James Hosty (Ron Livingston), the FBI agent who knew of Lee Oswald before the assassination.
Woof, that’s a lot of threads for one feature film – especially one that runs a mere 94 minutes. Parkland can’t hope to detail all of them, and it barely tries.
Parkland takes its material from Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi’s massive 1600-plus-page examination of the assassination and conspiracy theories. Parkland completely avoids the latter subject, as it concentrates solely on the actions of that tragic weekend in Dallas.
The film takes its inspiration/material from the first few hundred pages of Reclaiming History, as Bugliosi used that space to detail the four days from JFK’s assassination on Friday through his burial on Monday. Bugliosi’s portrayal of events proved so effective that this section of Reclaiming History received an individual release under the title Four Days in November.
That makes sense, as Reclaiming History would be unfilmable. It devotes a great deal of space to biographies of Lee Oswald and his murderer Jack Ruby as well as evidence of Oswald’s guilt and all the conspiracy theories that have cropped up over the last 50 years.
This means those behind Parkland made the right choice when they opted to focus solely on those “four days in November”, but they went the wrong way when they decided to turn it into a feature film. If I recall correctly, Bugliosi’s book originally was supposed to form a mini-series, and that would’ve been a lot more logical, as the movie tries to pack in way more than it can handle.
Had Parkland focused on a single aspect of the weekend with one or two main characters, perhaps it would’ve been more satisfying. That form would’ve allowed for more detail.
As it stands, however, the movie rushes through so many characters that it all becomes a blur. We get virtually zero depth, as we visit each situation/personality for a moment or two and then zip to the next one. It becomes a dizzying parade that leaves the viewer unsatisfied.
I recently re-read Reclaiming History, so the subject matter remains fresh in my mind. I think that allowed me to fill in material left out of Parkland - and even then, the film seemed superficial. I can’t imagine how confusing and disjointed it would be for anyone new to the subject.
Parkland also seems oddly bloodless and unemotional. The weekend depicted was a crazy one, but we don’t get much sense of that. Again, this comes back to its rushed narrative – because the movie fails to elaborate on anything, we’re left without the substance necessary to elicit any kind of connection or response.
I respect the film’s desire to focus on facts and not go off into conspiracy theory La-La Land, but Parkland remains a boring movie. It feels too much like a 94-minute trailer and not enough like an actual narrative project. As insane as its content may be, at least JFK entertains - Parkland turns into a superficial snoozer.