Parkland: Ensemble Drama Falls Apart

The accidental cameraman ......

The accidental cameraman ……


Title:                          Parkland

Certificate:               15

Director:                   Peter Landesman

Major Players:         Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden

Out Of Five?            2.5


Dramatic events or charismatic real people – or a combination of the two – don’t always make for a good film.  Just look at the recent Diana bio-pic.  But there are times when they do, especially if they take a different approach or try to shed new light on the subject.  Paul Greengrass’s drama-documentary style United 93 for one and, despite its befuddled conspiracy theories, Oliver Stone’s JFK for another.

Peter Landesman hasn’t followed Stone’s lead with Parkland.  Instead, he’s focussed on a group of ordinary people who are unconnected but for one thing – they were all involved in one way or another in the events of 22 November 1963 in Dallas.  The day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Among them are the trauma team at Parkland Hospital, who desperately fought to save his life – and, coincidentally, that of his assassin three days later.  There’s Abraham Zapruder, the man who made probably the most famous home movie ever.  There’s the Dallas chief of security.  And there’s Lee Harvey Oswald’s older brother.

It’s not an especially original approach.  In fact, it was used by documentary The Day Kennedy Died just last week on ITV, which followed a similar path, but with different individuals.  And it’s a premise that, looking at Parkland, is better suited to factual film.

Parkland has a fundamental question hanging over it.  It’s nothing to do with who and why killed Kennedy.  It’s why the film was made in the first place.  Apart from the 50th anniversary, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it.  There’s no new perspective on the events, or the conspiracy theories that still abound, and it’s not even done Rashomon-style.  What we have is an episodic drama, no connection between the main characters, apart from their being caught up in the assassination and being, in the main, decidedly under drawn.

There are two exceptions.  Paul Giamatti, one of the best character actors going, gives Abraham Zapruder his best, creating a warm-hearted family man.  But having to spend so much of the movie trying to find somebody to develop his soon-to-be world famous footage means he’s already got one hand tied behind his back.

The other – and this is the only instance where the film shows us something new and interesting – is James Badge Dale as Oswald’s older brother, Bob.  The most ordinary of men, he suddenly finds himself in the spotlight through no fault of his own and on the receiving end of the same hate directed at his brother.  Dale puts in a simple, dignified performance which gives the film its emotional heart.  As the credits roll, we discover that he’s the only one of the main characters still alive and, despite being forcibly told in 1963 that he should leave town and never come back, he’s still living in Dallas.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” roars Dallas security chief, Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton).  He meant the assassination.  But he could have meant the film.


Parkland is released nationwide on Friday, 22 November.



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