Marcia Gay Harden, one of a varied cast drawn into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with writer-director Peter Landesman. (Claire Folge)
Considering all the controversies, theories and impassioned debate over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it’s kind of nice to see “Parkland,” a film that’s a bit more cool on the subject.
But at the same time you can’t help wondering what the point of that cool is. This was a tragic time, a moment in which a culture tipped, an act that set off a paranoid state of mind that still exists today. And yet there’s little if any fire here.
“Parkland” is instead a very well-acted procedural that focuses mainly on people whose lives cruised around the event. Yes, the grieving Jackie is there, and a shadowed LBJ, even the dead president’s destroyed body. But the focus is on the satellites.
We barely get assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; instead there’s his family-man brother, Robert (James Badge Dale), and his mouthy nut of a mother, Marguerite (a wonderfully obnoxious Jacki Weaver). There’s Abe Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) who captured the murder on tape and now feels somehow tainted. And there are the hospital doctors (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks) who worked on the dying president as well as the mother hen nurse (Marcia Gay Harden).
And more and more. Mark Duplass as a Secret Service agent, Bill Bob Thornton as an agency honch, Ron Livingston as a conflicted FBI agent, Jackie Earl Haley blipping in as a priest. We glimpse all these characters but get to know none of them.
Writer-director Peter Landesman would have been wiser to hone in on three of the players — perhaps Zapruder, the Oswald brother and Harden’s nurse — and let them develop.
Still, it’s an interesting study; for those who remember that dark day, it will inevitably have impact. But this was too much of a story for one film.
Rated PG-13 for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout
Running time: 93 minutes