Film review: Parkland starring Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton

Nearly everyone knows the story of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination – Jackie wore pink, Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK from a ‘grassy knoll’, conspiracy theories abound.

But as the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death approaches (November 22) Parkland takes a different look at that day in Texas in 1963.

Named after Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where JFK was treated, Parkland is the story of the people behind the scenes of one of the most scrutinised moments in history, from the doctors and nurses at Parkland, to the man who caught on camera the shooting of the President, to the reaction of Oswald’s brother.

Crucially, the face of JFK (Brett Stimely) is never fully seen, and even Jackie (Kat Steffens) is relegated to the background, ensuring the focus is on other characters and their reactions. But that’s where the great points end.

Zac Efron plays young doctor Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico, who unexpectedly finds himself tasked with trying to save the life of the President, which we all know is futile. Dialogue at the hospital is kept to a minimum – in these scenes it’s all about the (overblown) looks of anguish on the characters’ faces. At times, it’s farcical, and there are no prizes if you guess the ‘twist’ at the end for the hospital staff.

Elsewhere, Paul Giamatti puts in a solid performance as Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed JFK’s assassination (see a video here about how LIFE magazine brought the video to light), while Billy Bob Thornton plays the chief of the Dallas Secret Service, tasked with getting the footage developed and catching the suspect. While Zapruder’s role is an interesting one, the to-do between the police, the Secret Service and the FBI becomes rather dull after a while, and as Zapruder’s entourage becomes bigger and bigger, it all starts looking a bit like an ensemble comedy, rather than a drama.

The most interesting character in the film is Oswald’s brother, Robert (James Badge Dale). He’s a sympathetic character, who embodies a range of emotions throughout the film, and whose demeanour at his brother’s funeral is far more powerful than all the wailing and weeping and sweating that comes before for JFK (a scene where JFK’s coffin is forced onto Air Force One by grieving agents is really, really cringeworthy).

But apart from Robert, the film isn’t brilliant, particularly when you add in the annoying soaring music over emotional scenes (all of them). And let’s not mention Oswald’s mother.

Parkland, based on the book Four Days in November by Vincent Bugliosi, had the potential to be brilliant. It had an interesting take on the President’s death, but failed to reach the dizzy heights it aimed for. Rather than a thoughtful film, Parkland comes across as a cheap made-for-television Sunday afternoon drama, albeit one with a stellar cast.

•Parkland is out in the UK on November 22.

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