Parkland (2013) – Review

John F. Kennedy has received several movie treatments over the years – most famously Oliver Stone’s JFK back in 1993 – yet none of these biopics have covered the infamous assassination in quite the same way as Parkland.  Where other films tend to focus on the conspiracies and global ramifications of his assassination, Peter Landesman’s understated thriller takes a very grounded approach by studying the reactions of “real” people close to the incident in the few days that followed it.

That being the case, on a good day Parkland could be considered a pretty effective, dark, tense little thriller.  The individual elements are all there to generally win the viewer over, whether it’s the fantastic ensemble, the dark, striking cinematography, the relentless pace or even the modest, ‘get-the-job-done’ running time.  If you’re not trying too hard to find some kind of enigma or nuance, there’s a good chance it will be a winner.  It’s a film made with real heart and good intentions, by someone who wants to tell the story of these unknown players in one of America’s biggest national tragedies with maturity, by someone who isn’t afraid to be controversial and refuses to shave off the raw edges.

The problems begin appearing when you start to look more closely. The idea of Parkland is to give us a window into the world of several people who were intimate with the incident in some capacity, whether it’s the hospital staff or the man who inadvertently captured the whole thing on tape (see the Zapruder film). It wants to tell the story of several key figures – the reason for such an enormous cast – but it simply doesn’t afford itself enough time to do so.  That short running time, while certainly easy and to the point, is far too short to facilitate such an ambitious goal. What we end up with is a whole bunch of characters who appear interesting and who we want to know more about, but we’re barely given more than an introduction before being swept off to somewhere else. By the time the credits role there’s an uncomfortable feeling of incompletion because we haven’t been through any form of arc, story or character.

With that in mind, the performances are still fantastic.  James Badge Dale, popping up in pretty much every movie these days, is compelling as the most fleshed-out character in the piece; the conflicted brother of the President’s slayer.  As he tries to make sense of the whole situation, we sympathize with him heavily as we struggle to even comprehend making the choices that he must.  Arguably the standout is Ron Livingston, who I’ve been a huge fan of since his brilliant turn in Band Of Brothers way back when, as a desk agent with the FBI who gradually discovers that he had received a death threat in person from none other than Lee Harvey Oswald just two weeks before the assassination took place, but didn’t apprehend him.  Livingston steals every scene he’s in, and continues to make a case for himself for more high-profile gigs.

Parkland is an occasionally compelling film of maturity and good intention, but is let down too often by an un-focused and directionless script.  Still, if all you’re looking for a short, tense piece of drama with a great cast, look no further.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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