Parkland is an eye-opening fly-on-the-wall account of the days surrounding the Kennedy assassination in November 1963.
The opening handheld scenes blend very well with the vintage stock footage and put together a great collage of the time and place. You are immediately taken back into a by-gone era and are softly drawn into the time period so that by the time the narrative kicks in we firmly believe everything we’re seeing.
The lead actors all handle their roles well, as do the supporting cast. There is no real protagonist, and so the emotions of the story are not carried by a central character struggle. Instead the film follows several significant and insignificant players, weaving together a mosaic of the confusing events surrounding the Kennedy assassination to fairly cohesive results.
There are no weak performances – everyone from Thornton’s secret service agent, desperately trying to develop Paul Giamatti’s footage (which will make you thankful you live in the digital age) to Zac Efron’s rookie doctor, and James Badge’s Dale’s Robert Oswald (brother of the alleged assassin).
The host of supporting characters fill out this tale with top notch, ever-present performances, painting an extremely candid view of the horrific events. Two former TV stars Tom Welling and Austin Nichols are fantastic as two of the young body guards whose fierce loyalty, not only to the president as a position, but to the man himself and his family, is extremely praise worthy. For me, it was the glimpses into the minor character’s lives that make this film worth watching. Through them we are given insight into the people and decisions that are often swept aside in the grand telling of such pivotal historical events.
By virtue of the story structure, some of the characters don’t get developed enough and we don’t get enough back story to make us care, but then again, this film is about a moment in history, and paints a broader picture of a time period rather than a singular emotional strand.
One of the film’s biggest strengths and thematic through lines is in its portrayal of contrasting situations, characters and opinions. The moment when the same hospital staff have to fight for the life of Kennedy’s supposed killer is a particular notable example of this contrast, but the most stand out one comes in the films closing moments.
The film ends with the two funerals. What the exact point is that the filmmakers are trying to make is up for debate in my opinion. What is clear though is that they portray two very different funerals – JFK’s and Lee Harvey Oswald’s. Each funeral is different in almost every conceivable way and the contrasts are extremely poignant.
Parkland is a film that seemed to get swept under the rug very quickly. Ask anyone on the street if they’ve ever heard of it and they’ll likely say no. It’s a pity, because although there is nothing stand-out about it, and no one will be rushing for a second viewing any time soon, it at least deserves to be seen once.