Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rohan visits Parkland

(TODAY'S GUEST: We're always delighted to welcome back Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK. He offers here his thoughts on Parkland, an ensemble-driven drama chronicling the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. You should follow Rohan on Twitter.) 

With the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination upon us, there’s no more poignant time to release Parkland, a film which tells the story of multiple real characters on the day of days following that event. That doesn’t save it from being little more than a made-for-TV or History Channel movie.

I like the film’s intentions to tell a well-known story from the perspectives of the people whose names aren’t so well known, but whose actions are of vital importance. The film also brings in an excellent cast with familiar faces such as Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, and Marcia Gay Harden delivering strong work in supporting roles. Sometimes it can be jarring to see a recognizable face pop up on screen for only a few minutes, but Parkland avoids that fate thanks to its earnestness and constant aim to keep the events at the forefront.

The film, unfortunately, never comes across as anything more substantial than three mini episodes of a TV drama: the assassination, the video footage, and Oswald’s arrest and murder. All highly interesting events but the film doesn’t give enough time to any one to make an impact on the audience, much similar to Bobby (2006) which also dealt with the assassination of a Kennedy. Too much happened in reality to retell in a 94 minute movie and, unlike Oliver Stone’s masterpiece JFK (1991) which spanned several years and multiple characters, Parkland suffers from its small scale production values.

The film is called Parkland because it is set in part at the Parkland hospital in Dallas where Kennedy was treated. But so much of the story takes place away from that venue that one can see in the title alone how muddled the film is from the outset. The picture really loses its way when the Oswalds (brothers Lee and Robert, and mother Marguerite) come into the story; the parallels between Robert’s and Kennedy’s burials are terribly ham-fisted in their execution and attempts to mirror one man’s legacy against another’s. If this were a three-part TV drama it could have worked really well as the third chapter, but in the structure of a motion picture it feels too heavy and draws us away from what was so interesting earlier on: Kennedy himself.

Even though he never speaks and is just a corpse for the majority of the film, it is the scenes with Kennedy which really work. The scene where the doctors try to save his life is genuinely troubling when we think about the sheer panic of what went on in that operating theatre, and the immense pressure on the staff who tried in vain to save the life the president. Moreover, the events which followed are equally crazy: the jurisdictional battle for his body, the need to remove seats and dismantle a section of Air Force One to transport his body; the emotional funeral seen around the globe. All of this, just knowing his body is in the picture somewhere, is very effective.

Parkland is workmanlike in its direction and has its moments, but ultimately adds nothing to the discussion or education of JFK’s assassination. It looks and feels like a 50th anniversary cash-in, and perhaps that’s all it was supposed to be. There’s little here which anyone familiar with the history of the story will not already have known and, although the movie is earnest in its depiction of those few days, the story deserves much more.

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