Thursday, 24 October 2013

57th LFF Review: Parkland

Director/ Writer: Peter Landesman

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Ron Livingston, Marcia Gay Harden, David Harbour, Billy Bob Thorton, Jacki Weaver, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Gil Bellows, Colin Hanks

Synopsis: Following the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas and subsequent days after it. Focusing on the doctors of the Parkland hospital, Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), who shot the infamous video footage; James Hosty (Livingston), an FBI agent; and Robert Oswald (Dale), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother.

Behold the cast of Parkland! It’s really quite extraordinary to see so many huge names all in the same billing. Still, you can look at Movie 43 and say the same, and that didn’t turn out quite right. Parkland is by no means as awful as Movie 43 though it’s another example of “all that glitters ain’t gold.” The cast aren’t terrible, and if you are to pick holes in the film, acting is not something you can bash. The main culprit of the film’s second-rate nature is writer/director Peter Landesman who has made a mess of an already chaotic chain of events.

The first 40 minutes of Parkland is a gripping recap of November 22nd 1963 with attention on people you may not have known about. Paul Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder is one such person who has his place in history, but perhaps unknown by name and profession. Zapruder was the man who captured that horrific assassination on film; at the right place at the wrong time, away from his desk at a clothing manufacturer to “see the President”. As the film makes a point of not showing the two shots that killed the 35th President of the United States, we see Zapruder watch in horror as a humble homevideo turns into homicide evidence right before his eyes. Giamatti is an exceptional, naturalistic actor, who plays the scene authentically. There’s no melodramatic screams or tears, just a look of unadulterated fear.

The film then takes us to the eponymous Parkland hospital where a young, yet practiced resident in general surgery, Dr. Charles “Jim” Carrico (Efron), looks on in disbelief at the body wheeled in for operating. Efron, despite seemingly pivotal to the film, has little to do. Jim’s vehement drive to keep Kennedy alive is both noble and ridiculous, affecting at points, comedic too. The operating scene is very intense, an idea that may have seemed powerful on paper, yet over the top on screen. The squishing sounds of blood silences most other sound, emphasising the blood-soaked hospital room to a nauseating, tasteless degree. Efron ends the scene pushing hard on the dead President’s chest, desperate to bring him back to life. Lasting what feels like several minutes, it starts as a heartbreaking parade of patriotism, quickly turning objectionable.

Out of the three main arcs, James Badge Dale’s portrayal of Robert Oswald, the composed brother of one of the most hated figures in American history, is the best. Dale moves from film to film with supporting roles, endlessly making a fine impression. His turn in Parkland is his most noteworthy yet, bringing such humanism to a person we would only believe to be crushed and confused by his relationship to Lee Harvey. He shares a lot of his screen time with Jacki Weaver, playing their mother. Dale brings a maturity to the film, above and beyond any of the other scenes, overshadowed at times by Weaver’s terribly written Marguerite. Whether or not these two people said and acted as they do in reality as they do in the script can be answered by your own research. It feels, however, that Landesman attempted to add humour to the film (to shake things up?) by having Marguerite as the most ignorant, dedicated mother in the United States. Her belief that Lee should be buried alongside the president is a laugh-out-loud idea, but handled awkwardly in the film – are we meant to think that’s funny, or tragically serious?

Strangely altering in tone in the latter half, Parkland is a haphazard, episodic retelling of that fateful day. There are stories in there that warrant a lot of attention (Robert Oswald should have been given his own film, arguably), and many that don’t (there’s not much to take from Zapruder racing around town to try and get his film developed, or seeing Kennedy’s coffin get clumsily transported onboard Air Force One). Landesman may have begun and ended his directing career with a whimper.


Also posted on LiveForFilms

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