Parkland (Millennium Entertainment, PG-13)

Parkland 75The problem is that for all those virtues, Parkland is not particularly interesting after the first 15 minutes or so.

Parkland 500

Ask any American who was over the age of five in 1963, and they’ll probably be able to tell you where they were and what they were doing when they received the news President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Kennedy’s assassination was shocking in a way that is hard to explain today — we have been accustomed to political violence and are used to extreme security at any event including key public officials, but in 1963, President Kennedy was riding through a major American city in an open-top convertible when Lee Harvey Oswald drew a bead on him.

Parkland, directed by Peter Landesman, attempts to capture the feel of that more innocent time and the shock Americans felt at the violation of their trust, by adopting a semi-documentary style and focusing on aspects of the assassination that are not usually featured in discussions of the case (e.g., the film is named for the hospital where Kennedy was treated). He partially succeeds: the period recreations are excellent, the cast is stellar, and real documentary footage is used skillfully to set the stage for the recreated and imagined scenes.

The problem is that for all those virtues, Parkland is not particularly interesting after the first 15 minutes or so. Once the tension from anticipating the fatal shots is dissipated, what you get are a lot of power plays and men generally acting badly (especially law enforcement officers in cowboy hats, who are both numerous and practically indistinguishable) in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. Note to screenwriters: there’s a reason people in low-profile jobs are called “little people,” and however important they may be in keeping the world running, their stories are not intrinsically interesting. You may be able to make them interesting, but that burden rests on you.

Two performances in Parkland stand out. The always interesting Paul Giamatti plays Abraham Zapruder, a Russian Jewish immigrant and clothing manufacturer who would likely have lived and died in obscurity were it not for the fact that he captured the Kennedy assassination on an 8mm Bell and Howell camera. James Bale Dadge is equally intriguing as Robert Oswald, an ordinary guy who worked hard, took care of his family, and had the misfortune to be the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald. It goes downhill from there: Billy Bob Thornton is almost unrecognizable as a Secret Service man, an equally unrecognizable Jacki Waver chews up all the scenery as Marguerite Oswald (Lee Harvey and Robert’s mother), and a number of other notable actors have minor roles, including Marcia Gay Harden as a nurse and Colin Hanks and Zac Efron as surgeons at Parkland.

It’s no coincidence that Parkland is being released just in time for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination (Nov. 22, 2013), because the primary market for this film are people who want to see everything and anything regarding that sad event. Parkland doesn’t really add much to the discussion of Kennedy’s assassination, but it’s enjoyable enough to watch if you are already interested in the subject, making it an ideal home-video movie with a specific target audience that might not be sufficiently large to make a general theatrical run worthwhile.

Extras included on the DVD/Blu-ray set include a director’s commentary, six deleted scenes, and previews of six other films. | Sarah Boslaugh

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