Angus Saul

Review: Parkland – Plenty Of Guts, But No Glory

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Angus Saul tells us why the latest look at the JFK assassination ironically limited in scope


Parkland was released on the 50th anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination and, unsurprisingly, it’s a glimpse into the lives of those who were directly affected by the then president’s death. It’s emotional at times, and it’s moving at times, but for the most part, it falls flat.

Written and directed by Peter Landesman (his directorial debut) and based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi, Parkland follows almost to the letter the official line of the events that unfolded on 22 November 1963. No conspiracy theory is entertained whatsoever. In Parkland, Lee Harvey Oswald is a very bad person, who, without a shadow of a doubt, killed Kennedy.

Conspiracies aside, the film follows a number of stories in the immediate aftermath to Kennedy’s assassination: Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), the resident doctor of Parkland hospital who attempted to operate on Kennedy; Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the man who inadvertently filmed the assassination; Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the assassin’s brother; and various CIA and FBI agents, as they all try to come to terms with what happened.

This splitting of focusses detracts from the film greatly. It’s difficult to sympathise with a character who may only appear halfway through the (relatively short) film, and then still only manage around 10 minutes of screen time.

There is a great deal of blood, as there are several scenes of doctors and nurses in an operating theatre, trying to resuscitate the president, and there are scenes of the original Zapruder footage of the assassination which some may find disturbing. In a film which is meant to be about a difficult subject, and one where emotions run high, something to look out for are the nuances, the subtle things that make you understand how someone is feeling. For the most part, the cast did not make this happen.

Parkland 2

Most, including veteran actor Billy Bob Thornton, resorted to shouting or over the top crying. Zac Efron’s performance was so underwhelming, and yet so Hollywood (yeah, he’s the doctor who tries in vain to resuscitate Kennedy for a significant time after he is clearly dead), that you wonder why on earth he was hired for the film. Moreover, he was only on screen for maybe 20 minutes. He was clearly in the cast list to get teenage girls along. No other reason is conceivable, as he clearly was not right for the part.

The CIA agents too seemed out of place, and often acted as though they wanted to be in an action movie with explosions and terrorists. Alas there were none, and the super-macho, super good-looking actors had obviously wandered onto the wrong set. Terminator vs Transformers 6: Supernova is the other way guys…

However, Parkland does have its good points. There’s some very understated acting from Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, and his portrayal of the deeply shocked, emotionally scarred, and suddenly world-weary man is excellent.

But the best performance, by some distance, is by the mostly overlooked Kat Steffens, as Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy. She has very few lines, but you feel nothing less than the utmost sympathy for her, knowing not only has she just lost her husband, but she has known it from the moment he collapsed beside her in the car. All in all, the film tries too much to be hard-hitting and emotionally draining, but it’s let down by a weak script which jumps around all over the place and never really seems to have much direction. There is no climax, only a beginning, middle and (most welcome) end.

It would have worked a lot better as a documentary, with a narrator, and fleshed out for another half hour or so to get any kind of character development going, or a two-part drama on BBC Three, aired around 10:30pm on a Tuesday evening. It brings nothing new to the table regarding JFK’s assassinations, and the conspiracies that surround it, and it certainly isn’t worth watching.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Parkland is currently screening at cinemas across the region.