Parkland review (London Film Festival)

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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