The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"PARKLAND"

Parkland

The Kennedy assassination has fueled so many works of art/entertainment that it's almost staggering. Some have dealt directly with the event (Oliver Stone's JFK, for instance), others peripherally (the Michelle Pfeiffer drama Love Field). It has inspired historical fiction (Don Delillo's Libra) and historical fantasy (Stephen King's 11/22/63). There are dozens of other examples that could be cited, but the point is that the assassination maintains a powerful pull, partially because of the unanswered questions around it, and partially because of its emotional impact on the nation. Parkland, now on DVD/Blu-Ray, is the latest cinematic effort to draw inspiration from one of America's darkest days, and while perhaps a bit too ambitious for its own good, the film is nonetheless worthy of attention.

Directed by Peter Landesman (and based on Vincent Bugliosi's book Four Days in November), Parkland looks at JFK's killing from the perspectives of various Dallas residents. They include: the doctor (Zac Efron) in the hospital ER who attempts to save Kennedy; the FBI agent (Ron Livingston) who may have made a critical performance error; the Secret Service agents (led by Billy Bob Thornton) who are wracked with guilt over their inability to protect the president; the brother (James Badge Dale) of suspected gunman Lee Harvey Oswald; and, most fascinatingly, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the man who famously recorded the shooting on film.

By looking at the tragedy from a number of different viewpoints, Parkland effectively conveys the confusion and horror that surrounded Kennedy's killing. We can see how unprepared everyone in Dallas was that day, and how they all struggled to grasp the devastating implications of it. The pacing, especially in the first half hour, is tight, creating a palpable sense of the bombshell that just hit. The most interesting sections focus on the Secret Service agents, one of whom comments that they're the first in their job ever to lose a president, and on Zapruder. Outstandingly portrayed by Giamatti, the Zapruder we see here despises the fact that he filmed the killing. While he cooperates with authorities, he's well aware that the images captured by his camera will be seen by the public, and that deeply troubles him.

Running a brisk 87 minutes, the movie tries to incorporate a lot of stuff, possibly too much. There are many characters and many little subplots. It might have been wiser to focus more exclusively on just one or two of them, then deal with the others on the side. Also, the character of Oswald's mother (Jacki Weaver) is the one here who really doesn't work. Gaudy and unapologetically interested in exploiting her son's predicament for her own gain, she needs a lot more development than is ultimately given. As such, the character seems oddly out of place and needlessly over-the-top.

Parkland gets enough right to be compelling, though, and the performances (especially Giamatti's) are strong. While not bound for classic status, the film still manages to capture a moment in time that changed our country.

Bonus features on the Blu-Ray are a director's commentary and some deleted scenes.

( out of four)


Parkland is rated R for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.


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