I was eleven years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, in 1963. Since then, countless books have been written about it, and many documentaries and films have been produced about the events too. The Warren Commission Report might well be regarded as the greatest fiction to have been written about the murder, and Oliver Stone’s film ‘JFK’ (1991) divided critics, audiences, and historians with its depiction of his version of what happened.
So for someone of my age, ‘Parkland’ might just have been another rehash of something I have read about or watched before I was even a teenager.
But it isn’t.
Parkland Memorial Hospital was the place where the president was taken to after being shot. The place where doctors and nurses in the emergency room attempted to save the life of a man already well-past saving. Not long after, his alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot whilst in police custody, and he was also taken to that same hospital; to that same room, where he was attended to by many of the same doctors and nurses who had tried to help President Kennedy. The film views those tragic events from a very different angle. Not only the hospital staff working under unprecedented pressure, but also the secret service agents, FBI officers, and local police who battled out their rivalries over the shattered bodies on operating tables.
Weaving everything together based around the man who shot the famous 8 mm cine camera footage, Abraham Zapruder, the story is seen to begin from his perspective, as he is shocked to see the event unfold through his camera viewfinder. Once the ensuing chaos consumes the law enforcement agencies, a distraught Jackie, and a solemn Lyndon Johnson, we get some of the back story to an incident that shook the world at the time. Lee Oswald’s brother, appalled that his sibling could have done this, and their mother, hoping to become famous, and to cash in, as a result. The overwhelmed Secret Service agents, and the FBI officers who had been tracking Oswald, and realise they could have stopped it all happening.
I really liked this film. It is intelligent, well-constructed, and manages to show a new perspective on something we might have all thought we already knew about. The casting is restrained, with superb performances from Paul Giamatti as Zapruder, Billy Bob Thornton as the head Secret Service agent, and Marcia Gay Harden outstanding as the professional head nurse involved in both the emergency room scenes. Zac Efron impresses as the tired but dedicated young doctor, and Ron Livingston is convincing as the FBI man hiding the secret of his own mistakes. I recommend it highly to anyone still interested enough in what happened that day. But don’t expect it to reveal any truths.