TIFF 2013: ‘Parkland’ is an uneven account of a tragic day

parklandParkland

Written and directed by Peter Landesman

USA, 2013

The director and the majority of the cast of Parkland were present on Day 2 of TIFF 2013 to promote and support their new film, a dramatization of the chaotic aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s shooting. The movie, a would-be Oscar contender, is a serviceable but wildly uneven account of the tragic event that shook a nation. It is not a biopic of JFK and his time in office leading up to his death, but instead a snapshot of the lives immediately affected by his assassination, from the doctors and nurses at Parkland Memorial Hospital to an everyday manufacturer who captured the assassination on camera as it unfolded.

The background to the shooting is a story everyone is familiar with. In Parkland, with the streets abuzz with anxious Dallas residents eager to see the beloved president, one man, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), finds a perfect spot to record Kennedy passing through, happening to capture footage of him being assassinated. Nobody quite believes what they see, especially Zapruder who has the whole thing recorded on film. Kennedy is rushed to the nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he is tended to by doctors (two played here by Zac Efron and Colin Hanks) and nurses (led by Marcia Gay Harden) determined to save the president, though they ultimately cannot. Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) is arrested shortly after Kennedy dies. Despite all signs pointing to Oswald as the culprit in the murder, his mother (an over-the-top Jacki Weaver) refuses to believe that her son is guilty.

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Parkland‘s success is in offering a new perspective for a well-known story. Seeing the Kennedy assassination from the vantage point of the hospital staff who tried desperately to save him offers a unique experience, but the uneven screenplay by Landesman makes for a disjointed watch. Even though the audience knows what is going to happen, Landesman builds a great deal of suspense and tension leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. After Kennedy is rushed to Parkland and the attempts to save him prove unsuccessful, the movie itself flat-lines, which brings a disconnect to viewers that could have stayed with this momentarily gripping feature.

There are great performers in this cast, including the always reliable Giamatti. Zapruder became the focus of intense media attention as everyone wanted to gain access to the film he had that captured the assassination. Giamatti, an actor who disappears into any role he takes, conveys the emotions of Zapruder efficiently. He, like everyone else, is distraught over the assassination but also finds himself in the eye of the media, a place he never expected to be. Billy Bob Thornton has a commanding role as Forrest Sorrels, one of Kennedy’s head Secret Service agents. The lovely Jacki Weaver, who is usually so great at portraying strong-willed mothers elsewhere, plays Marguerite Oswald too excessively, to the point of scenery chewing.

Under the gritty direction of Landesman, Parkland should have been great but merely settles for adequate. A scene in the final act between Oswald and his brother, Robert (James Badge Dale), is deeply effective, but by then audiences will have disconnected from this film.

– Matthew Passantino

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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