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3rd December 2013

Review: Parkland

Jack Crutcher reviews the political drama ‘Parkland’

Parkland is a film that tells an all too familiar story. The assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy,  has been mythologised and tediously picked over numerous times on the big and small screens. However one thing each and every rendition thus far has had in common, is that they all sing from the identical hymn sheet as those that preceded them.

When you look at the greatest success stories in the film industry over recent years, those that have taken all of the plaudits are the ones that feel fresh, provocative or even those that seek to challenge complex and difficult subjects (think Slumdog Millionaire or The Hurt Locker). And it is this high bar that ensures the safe road Parkland has elected to take will prove to be nothing less than a recipe for failure.

With this in mind, you might have thought in the era of Occupy, Wiki-Leaks and the NSA scandal, director Peter Landesman will have aimed to put a less sanitised spin on those infamous events in Dallas – both for the sake of his fledgling career as a Director (this being only his second film in the hot seat), but also for the sanity of film fans everywhere, who are unfortunately set to contend with another re-hash of the mother of infamous story.

This being said, the conformity of the story told is not this films’ biggest problem. Its greatest pitfall is its refusal to add any meaningful depth to the main-characters, and hence you find yourself in a constant struggle to emotionally invest in their subsequent turmoil. On watching Parkland’s opening scenes there is a sense some of the characters could have an intriguing personal story to tell, but as the film progresses you soon come to realise these characters will not be developed in any notable way . The early-film intrigue set-up by Zac Efron’s take on womaniser Dr Charles Carrico, or Paul Giamatti’s very human performance as Abraham Zapruder, are cruelly taken away by a Director afraid to divert attention away from a very safely fielded take on Kennedys death. This film seeks to hold its middle finger up to its brave peers, and then cover this finger with bright flashing lights and fireworks for good measure.

Perhaps the lack of character depth is best understood, not necessarily through bad directing or bad casting, but through the relatively short length of the film. In ninety three minutes not one scene in this assassination movie leaves you emotionally shaken, even the shooting of Kennedy falls flat with the attempt to mesh original Zapruder camera footage with the view of Gimatti’s Zapruder standing by with his camera, only succeeding in defiantly destroying any tension or drama the original film reel can claim to boast. Kennedy dies on the operating table, and a hospital room covered in the dead President’s blood is probably the most provocative scene in Parkland – but this rare flicker of emotion is created by effective set rigging, not effective character development. Actually, by this point you even struggle to care about the fact Carrico is standing in the middle of all of this blood.

Having said all of this, a few moments in the film do manage to achieve their desired effect. Billy Bob Thornton cuts a genuinely convincing figure as the secret services’ Forrest Sorrels, all be it in a part that won’t be winning him an Oscar any time soon. And the surprisingly touching dynamic between Robert Oswald and his brother and culprit Lee Harvey Oswald does deliver a somewhat substantive relationship. But none of this is enough to offset their really (really) annoying mother, that even at the expense of historical accuracy is probably best left out of any future script. Overall Parkland plays it too safe, and as a result feels disappointingly flat – its resonant of the colour beige or a plate of bread and butter – it won’t do you any harm, but it certainly won’t immeasurably improve your day.



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