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'Parkland' Review: Zac Efron's Frantic CPR Can't Bring this J.F.K. Assasination Movie Back to Life

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | October 9, 2013 | Comments ()


Parkland.jpg

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go see this movie. Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe history is kind of boring, but if you offered me like twenty different subjects, and one of them was this, and the others were, say, the history of chocolate candy-making in America, and one was about skateboarding or something, I think a film about the events surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination would be very low on that list. Partially, perhaps, because I feel like what is the point? Are we going to learn new things? We certainly aren’t going to change what happened at any point. So what’s so great about reliving history?

Well, aside from the exceptional work put in to make the film look and feel amazing, from the perfect costumes right down to the dream-like and trauma-like experiences documented on camera. The fluttering visuals, the drifting in and out of focus all approximate real confusion, remarkably well. Parkland can’t really be faulted on mood, only in that the story it is working with leaves no room for discovery or surprise. We all go in knowing exactly what happened, we all leave without any new knowledge or experiences to show for it.

The film delves into the real lives and circumstances surrounding the assassination, including the doctors (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks) and nurses (Marcia Gay Harden) who worked at Parkland Hospital and had to deal with the President’s (Brett Stimely, this guy’s played JFK about six times!) last minutes of life, and then there’s the brother (James Badge Dale) and eccentric family (Jacki Weaver) of Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong), devastated and forever marked by tragedy. And what of Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the man who shot the footage of the assassination, arguably the most famous home movie of all time? From the police officers covering the local beat (Ron Livingston) to the Secret Service men (Billy Bob Thornton) who lost their one man and assignment, the loss of the President cost many people dearly.

Because of the enormity of the cast and the multitude of story lines, almost every role is basically a cameo, lazily identified by text on screen, as if knowing who was who would make that much of a difference. Zac Efron might win the award for most talked about cast member who really is only in a small part of this movie, and is covered in blood for what little he is in it. Standouts among the cast include Paul Giamatti, in his role as Abraham Zapruder, the man who shot the closest footage of the actual assassination, and James Badge Dale as Robert, the distraught brother of killer Lee Harvey Oswald. Dale’s work is perhaps the most moving in the film, from his sad realization of his brother’s guilt, to a scene where he must depend on and even ask strangers for help, because there was no one left who would come to their family’s aid. And Jacki Weaver, well, what can be said about this powerhouse? Weaver steals every scene she’s in as the delusional, angry mother of Oswald. Thoroughly horrible and delightfully so.

Moving at times, but almost certainly because characters are conveying emotion as hard as they can. There are many terse words and itchy trigger fingers in this one. The film does seem to be obsessed with the real life events, it’s based on a book, and seems to strive for accuracy, to paint a picture of what truly happened. Does seeing events like this play out lessen their impact? Or re-acquaint us with the minutiae of loss and grief? The loss of J.F.K was a tremendous blow to our country, but there honestly doesn’t seem to be that much to say about what occurred. History certainly comes alive in the film, though we never really get to know any characters beyond how the death affects them and spirals out from their reactions to trauma. The film wants us to know how seriously it takes itself though, with pictures and follow up information in the credits to let us know how the various people ended up. (Again, only marginally interesting.)

Major fans of certain actors in this one, or of J.F.K. and American history will likely love this rare opportunity to glance into a very specific moment in time and space, and the era is represented well, with excellent costumes by the marvelous Kari Perkins, and production design that fades into the background, just like good production design should. But many people will likely take a pass, looking for more interesting or provocative fare. When one knows how the story ends, and there isn’t any new kind of spin on it, simply a resigned take on how things might have been, then there isn’t much reason to see it. And all the Tom Hanks producing and James Newton Howard score in the world can’t make a boring movie more interesting.

Amanda Meyncke is a Los Angeles based writer and costume designer, interested in ice cream and having tense discussions about whether or not you meant what you said earlier.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • St

    I saw Parkland. Couldn’t resist another Kennedy story. Movie is quite boring. But there are few amazing scenes.

    The one where they bring Kennedy’s body to hospital and doctors tried to save him. And then when they were taking his body to plane. Those whole scenes were amazing and breathtaking. It was really interesting to see. We never saw any documentary from that perspective. It’s usually about shooting and conspiracy. But here we just follow Kennedy’s car from that moment when he was shot to hospital and then plane. Kinda when Zapruder’s film end
    This one was about that time when they tried to save President and everyone was in shock. They really were crazy about him. I don’t think people would cry and be sad that much if Clinton, Bush or Obama would go same way.

    And story about Oswalds brother was interesting. Poor thing.
    And it really felt like you were in that era. Costumes, sets were great.
    Zac Efron looked like Zac Efrom. In those few scenes he had he was just looking shocked. Paul Giamatti as Zapruder was quite annoying and boring. Every other actor was good.

  • linnyloo

    Fruitvale station is similar in that we go in already knowing the ending, but the journey turns out to be a very moving one... recent history, not something that's been chewed over and spat out and chewed over again and again, but still. I think if a story is told very well, that knowing the ending can sometimes make it even more powerful. But that's the key, isn't it? Perhaps if they'd only focused on one of the stories instead...

    I recently heard a story on NPR about how Dallas was this incredible seething angry mess of conservatism, where the powerful members of the city were outspoken in their antisemitism, racism, and desire to overthrow Kennedy. When he arrived in Dallas, there were "Wanted" posters calling him a traitor. It also talked about LBJ and Lady Bird being mobbed and spat on by the city's well-to-do earlier that year. Does the film touch on that at all, I wonder? Because it took me by surprise, and made me think more about why Kennedy chose to go there in the first place, and what the city as a whole felt about his assassination afterwards.

  • StabMasterArson

    I must disagree with the entire premise of the review. The reviewer writes that "when one know how the story ends, and there isn't any kind of new spin on it, simply a resigned take on how things might have been, then there isn't much reason to see it." This assumes that the main reason we watch movies is to discover the end of the story, which I think is entirely inaccurate. At this point, we pretty much know how most romantic comedies and action movies are going to end, but we watch them anyway, and some are truly excellent movies, while some are truly terrible. Knowing how the story ends is often irrelevant. Roger Ebert often commented that it is not what a movie is about, but rather HOW it is about it. I think that is a good way to think about evaluating a movie. An example that springs immediately to mind is United 93. Going in, we knew how the story would end, there wasn't any new spin or information offered, it was simply a take on how things might have been, and there was every reason in the world to see it. Namely that it was a remarkable film that left the viewer unable to breathe for 100 minutes. Had people subscribed to the "I know how it ends so it is not worth seeing" philosophy, an amazing movie would have gone unseen.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I think the premise of the review is that Parkland is a mediocre movie. Die hard history buffs might be interested, perhaps, but why this, and why now? I don't understand the logic in returning to material that has been rehashed many times, with greater results. Parkland's reach far exceeds its grasp, and there's too many famous faces to let you forget you're watching a movie. United 93 was fairly different, populated with mostly unknowns or little-knowns, which allowed the reality to sink in a bit more. Also, it was one of the first real films about 9/11, which sets it apart.

    I'll try to be clearer in the future. I, of course, don't believe for the most part that knowing the ending of a film would ruin anything at all. As Ice Cube says, "Speak about it, no, b*tch, I'mma be about it." Parkland just doesn't offer up anything new to consider about the assassination, and I meant more that when a movie has so much up against it, it better be damn near perfect to warrant its own existence. Is it a good thing to make a film, treating it like an immersive experience, J.F.K. Assassination The 3D Experience Of People Who Were Indirectly/Directly Involved In Various Ways. Which is kind of awful, really. Is that enough to justify its experience? Do we need to experience that? Is United 93 guilty of the same thing? I don't know. I'd like to think the information United 93 held may have helped people understand things differently, or grieve, it served a purpose, perhaps. I just don't think that as an audience, or as a nation, we need anything Parkland's offering.

    Philosophical questions to consider on a Wednesday morning.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    You might have a point if there weren't already so many JFK movies (and some very good ones) out there already, which I think was her point.

  • George Tarleton

    By that logic, no one should make any more adaptations of Shakespeare.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Touche. Sort of. There are many that have a "new spin" - anything from setting to character motivations.

  • StabMasterArson

    Well again, my point is that the subject matter is irrelevant. An excellent movie can be made on almost any topic, and it does not matter if there have been 300 previous movies on the same topic. It is lazy criticism to say "Dont bother with this one, there have already been 300 movies on the same topic." Because, alas, the 301st might be an amazing cinematic accomplishment.

  • Yocean

    Ok that first paragraph is so wrong it turned me off from reading this. You assume too much. History has always been an interesting subje t to me and especially that incodent has been in conscious of humanity for so lo g and so deeply. I hate it and sorry to be keep having beef with your writing, because you have written some good pieces too, but you just come off so immature and so...how do I put it...fronting? Chest inflating? Standing on your toes? Like a hamster trying so hard to expand it's size and thus float with birds instead of doing whatever hamsters can do.

  • Yocean

    Grandstanding!! That's the word I was hunting for.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    The Frothing Immature Hamster Says In Her Second Paragraph:

    "Parkland can’t really be faulted on mood, only in that the story it is working with leaves no room for discovery or surprise. We all go in knowing exactly what happened, we all leave without any new knowledge or experiences to show for it."

  • Yocean

    Do we know exactly what happened? Can we ever? On anything?

    That aside, seeing as your review provoked the comment discussions on the validity of your POV than about the movie itself or whatever point you have to explain repeatedly, it speaks volume of your review composed in gesticulations rather that actual probing. Dig hamsteress, dig ( or is that more apt metaphor for squirrels? I'm not too versed in rodentary) . Oh, and don't tell me I would have seen the hole you made and the corns hidden if I kept on. It's not my job to keep reading something that turns me off right away.

    (I would never call it frothing. I'm not that mean.)

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Ha, I misread fronting as frothing. I kind of like it better, so I'll accept the imaginary insult.

  • Wednesday

    I love history, too, but some parts of history have been covered ad nauseam, and if you don't approach them from some truly fresh angle, it does become boring. I'm guessing from your word choices that you're not American, so maybe you haven't been beaten over the head with the Kennedy assassination. Most Americans have seen that footage and heard the story a thousand times, though, and repeating it on a big screen doesn't make it any more compelling.

  • Yocean

    I got a double citizenships US and Japan (it's kind of a cheat but legit), though first half of my life I spent in Japan so I guess I don't share the same growing up experience. There are certiorari things in Japanese history I got hammers in a lot but it never lost its luster for me. But that is really subjective. By the way, off subject, I'm curious to know which word choices gave away me not being completely American? Do elucidate me for my future bullshiting purpose, whichever way serves me in a given circumstance :D

  • Yocean

    God damn iPhone keyboards and autocorrect fucking my English up :P

  • DeltaJuliet

    I don't know. My husband and I are history buffs too and reading that I kind of felt like I did when we went to Gettysburg this summer and my sister in law said "Eh, whatever. I mean, it's just a big field".
    I think it's important to know about things that have happened in the past, and I like to try to relate to various events. I personally feel it's a little disrespectful to brush off major historical occurrences. But then, I am aware enough to know that not everyone feels the same way about the same things that I do.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I get what you're saying. I think this particular topic suffers from oversaturation, and the film will satisfy neither hardcore history buffs nor the casual moviegoer. So who is it for?

  • e jerry powell

    One wonders.

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