Movie Review by Sergio Martinez
On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas, an event that left in shock not only the United States but the whole world. Now when the fiftieth anniversary of the killing approaches, Peter Lendesman, an award-winning journalist, makes his debut as a feature filmmaker with “Parkland” titled after the hospital where the fatally-wounded president was taken that morning, and the same hospital where a few days later his presumed killer, Lee Harvey Oswald died, also the victim of an assassination.
Lendesman based his film on the book “Four Days in November” by Vincent Blugliosi, and was approached to make the movie because of his previous experience in documentaries. In fact the director manages to combine in a very creative way the techniques of the documentary with the narrative of the feature film, rendering a well-paced account of events that keeps the audience in suspense—a major task since indeed there is no real suspense in the story, we all know that Kennedy was killed—but the suspense is created not in terms of the succession of events that we all already know but rather in terms of the small personal dramas that the events in Dallas that day unleashed.
First among those personal dramas, that of Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) the brother of the accused murderer who has the unpleasant task of becoming the killer’s family visible face before the authorities, the media, and worse, an enraged public. “If I were you I would change my name, move out of Dallas, and never come back…” a police agent advises him. By contrast, Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) is adamantly asserting that her son was an agent of the United States government. Of course an affirmation that has always contributed to the more or less accepted notion that the assassination of Kennedy was not a job of just one single individual.
“Parkland” however doesn’t get into the debate over whether there was a conspiracy or not behind the killing. It only covers the four days between that morning when Kennedy arrives in Dallas, and the funerals of both the president and his alleged assassin. There are some hints though: Texas and federal officials argue even in a confrontational way over whether the body of the president can be taken without the performance of an autopsy as the state’s law requires. (In the end the federal officials prevail.)
The drama is highlighted also by one fortuitous occurrence that would later prove of great importance for the criminal investigation, the filming of the motorcade by amateur cameraman and Kennedy admirer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), there are also the roles of Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), the young doctor who was the first to treat the wounded president, the understandably disconcerted and upset Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) chief of the Secret Service (“We lost the man…” he says), and FBI agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston) who feels guilty for not having paid enough attention to an important detail.
The release of this film would certainly contribute to rekindling the interest in the Kennedy myth: naturally, the fact that his presidency ended so tragically has made him the object of an immense historical glorification, but would he have been a really extraordinary president had he finished his mandate or would he have been just a mediocre one like Barak Obama? Of course that is just pure speculation. The public for sure prefer to keep the mythical image of Kennedy, and this film would satisfy that public.
“Parkland” is a good movie, very well narrated and with good cinematography, which should be of interest not only to those who like good cinema, but it will also please history buffs and those who “still remember what they were doing when Kennedy was killed.”
Length: 95 min.