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