“Parkland” is a movie out of control. It’s the story of a tiring number of people the day JFK was assassinated and the two days afterward. At its best, it’s only the story of Robert Oswald and his bat shit crazy mother, Marguerite, in relation to how they handle the idea that their brother and son, Lee, killed the president.
Jackie Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”) plays Marguerite and accomplishes a rare feat in a movie drowning in distracting, faceless police officers and secret servicemen. In fact, she is one of two characters who trigger an emotional response — even if only an eye roll. James Badge Dale plays Robert Oswald, Lee’s brother. While sympathetic towards him, Robert is a painfully torn character, declaring to one police officer, “I don’t even know who that was,” after fielding the question: “What did he (Lee Harvey Oswald) say” after an jail-visit interview.
The film, overall below average, leaves us with a great final sequence. Director Peter Landesman intertwines footage of the Kennedy funeral procession, the whole nation watching on television, with the scene of Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral. It’s a struggle for Robert and we feel for him when he approaches stray photographers in the background to help carry the casket to the grave, knowing full well who was inside. Evidently, this is a theme throughout the film. When Lee Harvey Oswald hits the trauma table at Parkland, one doctor comments they might be able to save him; then, a different doctor responds, “Do we want to?” Initially, medics turn to roll him into the same operating room that Kennedy was in, but a nurse turns them away by saying, “He will not be saved in there.” That’s the strongest theme here: the direct contrasts between how president and assassin are treated.
But the writers try to do too much. Paul Giamatti’s role as Abraham Zapruder is expendable in this case. He and the first 45 minutes of this movie are as horrid and shaky as you’ll find on a movie or television screen. The reason Zapruder has a role is because of his 8-mm film in Dallas; however, the film is one of many things that the filmmakers decided to shy away from in “Parkland.” We never see the famous “Zapruder Film” directly, only through reflections. We never see JFK directly, just his hair. In contrast, we see who the filmmakers cast for Jackie Kennedy — it was a miss. The first 45 minutes were a mess.
The casting in “Parkland” is equally distracting. Actors like Mark Duplass, Austin Nichols and Tom Welling are cast in a number of different faceless, nameless secret service roles. Tom Welling (“Smallville”) is apparently back from the dead! It’s no more frustrating that they were cast in these bottomless roles than it is wondering why they took them. Casting Colin Hanks, Zac Efron and Billy Bob Thornton isn’t nearly as mind boggling, but it’s not on par either. Even Ron Livingston is in this movie, but who cares. There’s such a thing as over-casting and “Parkland” is a good example.
Unfortunately, “Parkland” is trying to tell a lot of stories in a short period of time. The film is about 90 minutes, not enough to flush out real stories, but short enough to keep us from pressing the “Stop” button all together. If you don’t know much about the JFK assassination, you’d best not even bother with this one. The film is so wrapped up in telling these five, six, seven people’s stories that it forgets any background and leaves most of the characters floating around aimlessly without meaning. In a film that tries to be detail oriented, it forgot some important basic principles.
This would’ve been better suited as the story of the Oswald family, minus Lee, as they deal with the aftermath of what happened. The aforementioned ending scene leaves us with a voiceover by Walter Cronkite, as Robert Oswald shovels dirt into his brother’s grave and walks away, blurring into the light. It’s a fantastic last five to ten minutes, but it can’t save the other 80 of overwhelming anxiety.