The story of the John F. Kennedy assassination is as deeply ingrained into our national consciousness as any Shakespearean tragedy or Greek myth. The whole affair - from the Texas School Book Depository, Zapruder film, and Jackie’s pink Chanel suit to Jack Ruby and the magic bullet - is like biblical allegory minus the obvious moral conclusion to draw. What did we learn from the tragedy? That anyone, even a sitting president on home soil, can be subject to elimination? That the Dallas-area law enforcement agencies endured perhaps the worst two-day sequence in the history of political crime? That the idea of Camelot was nothing much more than successful branding based upon a couple of charismatic leads whose mythical marriage was in turmoil?
To find a new way to approach the story, then, new angles must be cultivated. Peter Landesman’s Parkland, which he also wrote, investigates some of the other participants’ stories swirling around in the pandemonium that was the assassination aftermath. There is Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), the young emergency room surgeon at Parkland Hospital, first pressed into duty trying to revive the most powerful man in the Western Hemisphere, and then, two days later, the man accused of shooting him; Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), a Dallas dressmaker, whose grainy 8mm film of the bullets hitting the president became virtually the only visual document of the event; James Hosty (Ron Livingston), the FBI agent tasked with keeping an eye on Lee Harvey Oswald after his return from Russia; and the scores of Secret Service men who had to take the brunt of the blame over their inability to maintain their top priority; and, finally, Robert Oswald Jr. (James Badge Dale), the wholly innocent older brother of the alleged assassin, caught in the poisonous vortex left in the aftermath of his brother’s accusation and subsequent murder. They are all stories very much worth telling; the question becomes what conclusions can be drawn from them?
As the film opens, we quickly get a rundown of the notable settings and side characters through whom this epic tragedy will be retold. After the initial shooting, the film jumps from chaotic moment to chaotic moment - from the crowded, frantic hospital, with swarms of Secret Service agents piling into the operating room where doctors are frantically trying to revive the president, to the equally beset Dallas FBI office, where agents are desperately trying to get ahead of the crime in order to capture the shooter, all while feeling as if they’ve already let down the nation.From there, it hops from story to story, the main details squeezing out via news agencies and Secret Service intelligence through the buzz of tumult, as these characters try only to do their jobs and not completely lose sight of themselves in the process.
Landesman’s film is an impressive ensemble piece, assembled carefully, with intensely strong attention to historic detail, that dramatizes one of the more infamous moments in modern American history and yet still manages to surprise you with what it’s able to reveal. Thankfully, it doesn’t purport to solve the lingering mysteries of the assassination, Oliver Stone-style, nor does it attempt to bring additional closure to the incident. Rather, it brings us directly into the chaotic maw of the moment, and recognizes just how frail and human we are in these moments when everything seems upended at once.
As events began taking place, faster than any news organization could adequately follow, there was that same bit of helpless confusion and panic that anyone having lived through 9/11, Pearl Harbor or Nagasaki would recognize all too well: A sense that anything could happen, it seemed. That any horrible outcome was indeed possible, and no clear narrative had yet emerged to fortify our collective courage. In the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination, America was briefly turned upside down, and like a 747 that suddenly drops a couple of thousand feet in turbulence, it’s not a feeling anyone sitting on board is ever likely to forget.
Parkland 87 Cast: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, Ron Livingston, James Badge Dale Director: Peter Landesman Rating: PG-13, for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language Running time: 93 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 10/25/2013
Print Headline: Parkland