By Jamie Bircoll, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 7, 2013
The assassination of John F. Kennedy is certainly one of the most discussed and fascinating events of recent history. It’s founded in political intrigue and murder, an investigation shrouded in secrecy, basically all the elements of a great film. “Parkland” attempts to re-examine the assassination by focusing on the supporting, lesser-known players of the three-day ordeal. Unfortunately, it spreads its runtime on too many subjects and too many points of view to create a cohesive narrative.
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The audience is introduced to no less than eight main characters in six different locations in the first 10 minutes of the film, making it all too easy to get lost among the commotion. Among them are Paul Giamatti’s (“Rock of Ages”) Abraham Zapruder, the businessman who filmed the entire assassination, Billy Bob Thornton’s (“Puss in Boots”) Forrest Sorrels, the Dallas Secret Service Agent charged with protecting the President, Zac Efron’s (“17 Again”) Dr. Charles ‘Jim Carrico,’ who operated on Kennedy upon his arrival at Parkland Hospital and many, many more.
It is “Parkland” ’s expansive cast, featuring all talented actors (even Efron carries his own, sort of), that is its Achilles heel; only two or three characters are onscreen for more than 15 minutes. Due to this lack of focus, no character really gets the chance to develop — instead, they react and then disappear.
That’s really the best way to describe “Parkland”: a reaction piece. It seeks not to provide answers or even to ask more questions. Rather, it shows another side of the assassination that doesn’t get as much attention and then concludes. In that sense, “Parkland” would be great as a History Channel film, but certainly not one most audiences would consider if they’re looking for drama, secrecy and exposition.
There is one storyline that is an exception to this, and it is that of Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale, “Iron Man 3”), brother of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong, “Lincoln”). Dale is really quite outstanding, managing in only 20 minutes to really explore his character — we see his torn loyalties between his love for his brother and his hatred for the act he committed and, most importantly, the fear in his eyes at the prospect of living with the name Oswald. It’s fairly heartbreaking to watch Robert frantically bury his brother as though he can also bury the consequences of the assassination in an attempt to save some face for the future.
“Parkland” spends a plurality of its time on Robert Oswald’s story, a wise decision from first-time director Peter Landesman, but it’s not enough to lift the film or to convey the raw emotion and deeper characters of its subjects. Instead, it paints a picture of an event and, like all paintings that are “just OK,” it fails to hold attention — very quickly, you’ll go looking for something a little more breathtaking.