Why Parkland is Not Very Awesome

Promising Idea but struggles to deliver

There have been many films, books, discussions, etc. concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22nd November 1963, and when better for a new take than the 50th anniversary of the tragic event? Parkland does something quite different; we thought we had seen this story from all angles, but no, there was another that no one seemed to have considered - that of the normal people, the doctors, nurses, families of those involved, who were sucked into this shocking experience and then left to recover when the day ends.

The premise for Parkland is very strong, but unfortunately it can’t seem to pull it all together to deliver a knock-out film. We are introduced to the location and the characters involved with the use of text, letting us know who the film will essentially be focusing on during its study of the next four days. We are shown historical footage of the real Kennedy and his wife arriving in Dallas and we hear narration following their movement. Anticipation builds as we near the inevitable moment, but we never see it; it is over in a matter of seconds and we only hear the shots.

It is then that we head to the hospital in a scene of chaos and panic; Zac Efron plays the young doctor charged with saving the president, eventually joined by Colin Hanks, whose father Tom Hanks produced the film along with fellow actor Bill Paxton. Efron is portraying a man out of his depth, fighting an obviously lost battle. The score adds more panic and adrenaline to the crowded room, the shouts and the race against time. These scenes are quite graphic, and there is no shortage of blood on this set. We never see Kennedy’s face completely, only from odd angles and out of focus, but there is an obvious likeness, and it looks like they have created a model of his face and upper body.

The Scenes in the hospital are some of the best in the movie

The hospital scenes are very emotional to watch, there is a level of shock and utter despair in all the characters, and you as an audience realise the significance of the moment when the machine flat-lines. All of this happens very early in the 90 minute film, so it is then a case of studying the characters reaction to the assassination and where and what they do next. There is a deeply moving performance from Paul Giamatti, who is on top form with his choice of films recently. He portrays Abraham Zapruder; a businessman who took the only footage of the assassination. He is a normal, hard working man thrown into incredible circumstances. His performance alone is worth seeing Parkland for, and it shows just what the underrated actor can do.

Paul Giamatti with yet another fantastic performance

Another reason to see the film is the performances of the actors portraying the Oswald family. Perhaps the most interesting of insights in the film, nobody before seems to have thought about what Lee Harvey Oswald did to his family, creating notoriety that would follow them for generations and inexorably linking them to one of the most famous events in the modern world. Jacki Weaver is excellent as Marguerite Oswald, the mother of Lee; she is obviously deluded, shows signs of mental illness and doesn’t always make complete sense. She is also quite scary in that she shows a sense of pride, almost, for her son’s actions - she seems pleased that she will be famous around the world and wants to tell her story. It is through Robert Oswald, the brother,  that we see the true consequences of the day; he is told that he should change his name, move away and never come back. He is played by James Badge Dale very realistically, and you can see the change in him when he hears the news of his brothers’ arrest, his eyes showing a man thinking of how much he will have to overcome after this. Lee Harvey Oswald himself is portrayed by a relatively unknown Jeremy Strong, but he has been expertly cast; Whilst only in one scene, his blank, emotionless face leaves a marked impression. It is never stated whether Lee Harvey Oswald admits to being the shooter - he neither admits nor denies the charges – and this keeps the filmmakers neutral, but according to the information during the credits, Robert never doubted his brothers’ guilt.

The Scenes with the Oswald family are very interesting to witness

The film can be very moving; the aftermath for those everyday people involved is hard to imagine, and in the days that follow normalcy is impossible. However, moving scenes alone are not enough to make a good film, and neither, unfortunately, are the performances, despite many of them being great in this film. The most basic and important element is the story - without a satisfactory script the film cannot reach the level it could be. There does not seem to be much of a plan to the scenes, as Director Peter Landesman flits from one characters’ story to the next with little consideration for connection. As an audience it is easy to feel cheated watching a film about the Kennedy assassination and not actually see any of the infamous footage, as we only see a reflection of the short clip through Giamatti’s glasses. This fact alone makes it less engrossing, and not as involved as Oliver Stone’s take on the event. But the worst thing about this film is the camera work - it is shocking. It is obviously deliberate, but how can anyone stand to sit for an hour and a half watching a camera go in and out of focus, shake and get extreme close ups of the actors. It is too much, and frankly completely annoying, ruining the whole experience. Certainly not a bad effort if you can sit through that, but not a patch on JFK (1991).

This has been Mary for The Awesome Update.

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