Parkland review (London Film Festival)

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Parkland green light Paul Giamatti

This poignant and painful ensemble drama about the lesser-known figures caught up in the JFK assassination reminds us that history happens to regular people, too.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the concept, love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Half a century on from the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, here’s a fresh perspective on that awful day: that of the ordinary Americans caught up in the chaos. As history ripples out across the city, we meet an array of the people who are hit hardest: the nervous young doctor (Zac Efron: The Lucky One) on call at Parkland Hospital, where the President is rushed after being shot, and the experienced nurse (Marcia Gay Harden: A Cat in Paris) who must calm him down and get him to do his job; FBI agents (including David Harbour [End of Watch] and Ron Livingston [The Conjuring]) who realize they’ve had their eye on Lee Harvey Oswald but saw nothing that raised any major alarms; Oswald’s brother, Robert (James Badge Dale: The Lone Ranger), whose life is shattered in an instant, and mother, Marguerite (Jacki Weaver: Silver Linings Playbook), who makes us wonder whether some sort of insanity doesn’t run in the Oswald family. Director Peter Landesman, working from a nonfiction book by Vincent Bugliosi, finds small details that stun us, sometimes in ways that may not have even registered at the time with those hit by the shockwave of the assassination — such as the obscene amount of blood staining crisp white Secret Service dress shirts, or how the pathos of griefstricken agents ripping out seats on Air Force One so the President’s coffin wouldn’t have to put in the cargo hold — and some that surely did: the abuse that the completely innocent Robert Oswald faces is by turns enraging and pitiable; I cried for Robert, not Lee, at the pathetic spectacle that is the assassin’s funeral. But the most powerful story is Abraham Zapruder’s. Paul Giamatti (The Congress) finds a quiet dignity in a man who is horrified to realize that he “filmed a murder,” but also a steely resolution: he gasped and started at that moment, seeing it through his camera, but he never stopped filming. There’s something utterly fascinating, too, in how law enforcement on that day was learning, quickly, how to play catchup with new technology, as Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton: Puss in Boots) doesn’t immediately confiscate Zapruder’s film (as I imagine would happen today in similar circumstances) but runs around the city with Zapruder trying to find a processing lab that can handle the new film format. There’s something very poignant and painful in this reminder that history isn’t just about the famous names in the books but about everyone touched by big events.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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Thu, Nov 21, 2013 4:01pm

this is actually the one JFK based media product i’m actually interested in seeing in this 50th anniversary year.

reply to  bronxbee
Wed, Nov 27, 2013 4:49pm

I agree. Seems like all the other attempts at creating something in commemoration are just to sap. I am actually looking forward to that one…and I am a Londoner!

Wed, Jun 04, 2014 7:11pm

The author of the book or the filmmakers got confused concerning Zapruder’s film. The standard 8 format depicted was first introduced by Kodak in 1932. A new ‘Super 8’ format was not available until 1965.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Michael_Rogers
Thu, Jun 05, 2014 3:25pm

And this impacts the fllm in what way?

Stacy Livitsanis
Stacy Livitsanis
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 4:06pm

Late to the party on this film, but it was such a mesmerising experience, felt compelled to talk it up. This is a powerful antidote to Oliver Stone’s brilliantly made but recklessly false JFK. The rare film that focuses on the reality of the event as opposed to Hollywood-friendly fantasy conspiracy theory nonsense. As a skeptic I’m used to movies depicting real events with no regard for fact or logic, so this devastating re-enactment of the day that discards all the absurd claims to focus on what actually happened, as close as can be understood from the historical accounts, was like a gift.