By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

The Torontonian Reviews PARKLAND

parkland-zapruder

While much has changed since November 22, 1963, what hasn’t is the world’s fascination with the assassination that happened that day. Fifty years after the fact, we are given the underwhelming Parkland, Peter Landesman’s dramatization of side narratives that emerged after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot. These mini-stories—perhaps better suited for a television series—include the hospital unit working at Parkland Memorial Hospital (to treat the bodies of both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald), the life-changing footage captured by Abraham Zapruder, and the family Oswald left behind.

Written for the screen by Landesman (also making his directorial debut), the film features a curious cast of Zac Efron (Jim Carrico, a young doctor at Parkland Memorial), Paul Giamatti (Abraham Zapruder), James Badge Dale (Robert Oswald) and Jacki Weaver (Marguerite Oswald). None of these roles own the show, however, as they all support their individual arc. There are a large number of players—far too many to list—but only Giamatti’s Zapruder and Badge Dale’s Robert Oswald are worth paying attention to. Even then, their stories would likely be far more interesting in a written format, like Vincent Bugliosi’s “Four Days in November,” the book from which the film is adapted. The acting is acceptable, but the performance average suffers from a surprisingly ineffective Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) and Efron’s dubious turn as a surgeon.

As is usually the case with lesser historical pictures, the most compelling sequences come not from the dramatization but from newscasts and archival footage that punctate the background of the chaos. While it’s hard to compete with a defeated Walter Cronkite announcing the death of the President on national television, Parkland‘s emotional heft comes almost entirely from images like that, and especially the Zapruder film, and Landesman adds little to their impact. Coasting from beat to beat (when will Oswald get shot? Oh, there it is), the film piggybacks off the assassination’s universal intrigue, hoping to squeeze tension from underwritten characters.

The film’s period setting also feels like an afterthought. The majority of the action is captured in cramped rooms and with a variety of angles (with the cuts and shaky close-ups you would expect from poor choreography), and there are only a handful of master shots throughout. Moments of clarity are a relief from the unintentional claustrophobia of Parkland, but there isn’t enough in the details for Landesman to really sell the early 1960s as anything other than when the tragedy happened. Set design? Forget it. For that reason alone, the film doesn’t work. But when you add a lagging script with contemporary gimmicks that add artificial drama, well… when the surgeons attempt CPR on President Kennedy, relentlessly trying to revive a man who won’t come back, you get the sense the film is attempting something similar.

2 Responses to “The Torontonian Reviews PARKLAND”

  1. Peter Roland says:

    What may be just as interesting as the conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination is the backstory of the hospital where JFK died, Parkland Memorial Hospital. Parkland is not only the place where the President died, but also where his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, died and where Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby, died.

    Just consider that doctor residents-in-training were the first care taker to receive both JFK and Oswald at Parkland while no licensed doctor was around. That’s what you get when trainees are there to do the work of licensed doctors.

    Parkland has come under intense fire from government health care regulators recently and are on 7 straight years of federal probation for patient care lapses and billing fraud.

    You can read about the back story about Parkland on the website, “The Parkland Orgy of Death.”

  2. Paul Hemming says:

    A shoddily written book gets a shoddily made “straight to DVD” movie. Sounds about right.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas