The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been looked at by more angles in more movies, books and television shows that almost any other moment in U.S. history in the last half century. As teased in the Parkland trailer, the film actually offers something different.
Peter Landesman has written and directed the film, based on the book Four Days in November, which tells the collective story of those in Dallas on the periphery of the tragedy and how it changed their lives forever.
There’s the story of the doctors at the Parkland hospital, thus the movie’s name, played by Zac Efron and Colin Hanks, and the nurse (Marcia Gay Harden) who aids them in the most horrible of moments.
Paul Giamatti portrays the most well known of the characters, Abraham Zapruder, the man who shot that notorious film of the beloved president getting shot. Ron Livingston leads the cast of FBI agents working that fateful day in Dallas as we learn that they had Lee Harvey Oswald in their office, merely days before the assassination.
Then, speaking of Oswald, we meet his brother Robert (a stellar James Badge Dale) and his mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) and see how that day affected them.
But the most fascinating and compelling of all those stories is the Secret Service detail charged with protecting Kennedy. Billy Bob Thornton portrays Forrest Sorrels, the man in change that day, and how he shifted from protection to investigation within minutes is truly compelling, as handled by Landesman. The film also speaks to how close these men were with their president and how utterly crushed they were that they failed him, and as they say, failed the country.
Where Parkland slightly misses is perhaps it spreads itself too thin. The Oswald family material is interesting, but it focuses so much on the brother and the out-there mother that perhaps an opportunity was missed. We learn about the supposed shooter through police and FBI files and it is painted as a rush to judgment. Without the Oswald family aspect to this story, perhaps it would have felt more concise and to the point.
Witnessing the moments after the shot was fired, through Kennedy’s arrival at the hospital and the utter chaos that ensued, is honestly difficult to watch. Sure, it’s something we have all heard about, but seeing it from the point of view of those it personally affected is a challenge. It is handled with grace from the filmmaker and at the same time maintains that reverence that America has for a time when it had its own version of Camelot.