I currently reside in Dallas, TX. Whenever friends or family members come to visit, one of the things on their list to see is the 6th floor book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald fired his infamous shot to kill President John F. Kennedy. The site is now a museum, and there’s actually an “X” painted on the asphalt where the bullet hit. You can still stand on the grassy knoll and picture in your mind the events of that horrible day. Countless movies and TV shows have been made that have documented or told narrative stories about Kennedy’s death, but none quite like Peter Landesman’s ‘Parkland’.
The title refers to the name of the hospital where JFK was pronounced dead. A couple of days later, Lee Harvey Oswald was also rushed to Parkland and declared dead after his own shooting by Jack Ruby. Parkland hospital still exists in Dallas today, and is one of the busiest medical centers in the DFW area.
This is not a JFK movie that involves conspiracies, motives or even much of the President himself. In fact, although the film is called ‘Parkland’, it’s not even fully set at the hospital. This account of the JFK assassination is all about the chaos that surrounded the event from the time that the bullet hit the President to Oswald’s funeral, which happened within a span of a couple of days. Rather than focus on just one character, it’s an ensemble drama that provides tiny glimpses of the President and his wife, the doctors and nurses at Parkland, the police, FBI, CIA and Oswald’s family.
One character we follow is Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the man who filmed the motorcade and captured the assassination on camera. The head of the FBI (Billy Bob Thornton) escorts Zapruder from place to place to make copies of the footage, all the while every news outlet in the world offers him money to purchase it. We see Zapruder struggle with the decision to sell the footage, going so far as requesting that Time magazine edit out the gory parts.
Another important character is Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother. I’ve never seen a movie show Oswald’s family before, at least not in this detail, even if it’s only for a short amount of time. Their mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) is on the verge of being institutionalized, and Weaver plays the part a little too cartoonishly. However, a scene with Robert and Lee in the jailhouse before Lee’s murder is truly powerful. One of the most heartbreaking scenes occurs when Oswald is being buried, and Robert has to ask the press to help him carry his brother’s coffin because nobody else is there to help.
Zac Efron, Colin Hanks and Marcia Gay Harden all give great but small performances as doctors at Parkland who have to deal with the CIA and Secret Service barging in. Ron Livingston plays FBI agent James Hosty, who profiled Oswald before the assassination but was ordered to get rid of any evidence that showed that the FBI had investigated him, because it would look very bad for the Bureau.
‘Parkland’ shows only the intense chaotic moments in these couple of days. Each character receives less than ten minutes of screen time, but Landesman seamlessly weaves these heartbreaking moments together and moves the story at a fluid pace while James Newton Howard’s score revs up the emotion in every scene. It’s an excellent film.