November 19, 2013
Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) reignited the American public’s fascination with the John F. Kennedy assassination, spawning several other films that took a look at either the peripheral figures involved (Ruby) or its impact on society (Love Field). In recent years, as the 50th anniversary of the event loomed large on the horizon, there has been renewed interest with Stone’s film being given the deluxe treatment on Blu-Ray, Errol Morris’ short film, “Umbrella Man,” and Shane O’Sullivan’s documentary Killing Oswald. Arguably, the most high profile of all these projects is the Tom Hanks produced Parkland (2013), which dramatizes what happened immediately after Kennedy was killed while also focusing on the man who documented the actual assassination.
Parkland starts off by briefly tracking the activities of key figures before the assassination takes place: local FBI agents, the staff at Parkland Memorial Hospital, and local Secret Service agents before plunging us into the horrible event and its aftermath. The initial focus is on the hospital staff’s treatment of the President. In the ensuing chaos, we are introduced to the young Dr. Charles Carrico (Efron) who is assisted by head trauma nurse Doris Nelson (Harden) as they try desperately to save Kennedy’s life. At the same time, we observe Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), who documented the assassination with his 8 mm camera and this brings him to the attention of local Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels (Thornton). Not surprisingly, he is very interested in what Zapruder captured with his camera.
Unlike JFK, Parkland zeroes in on the immediate aftermath of the assassination in procedural fashion, employing hand-held camerawork that places us right in the middle of the action. Director Peter Landesman eschews Stone’s hyperbolic approach for a more no-nonsense one, which extends to the restrained performances from the talented cast. The most compelling characters in the film are Zapruder and Robert Oswald (Dale), the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald, ordinary people suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
While Parkland is anchored by rock solid performances by the likes of Paul Giamatti and Billy Bob Thornton, it is James Badge Dale who is the real stand-out as Oswald’s understandably shell-shocked brother. The scene where Robert sees his brother in jail is a riveting one as he no longer recognizes his now enigmatic sibling.
About halfway through Parkland, the focus shifts from Kennedy to the investigation of who killed him with Robert Oswald and his eccentric mother (Weaver) dealing with their now notorious family member. Landesman wisely does not try to advance any one theory of who killed Kennedy or why. Instead, he presents as much of the facts as are known in a straightforward and solemn fashion that is nonetheless engrossing.
The quality of the transfer on the Blu-Ray is excellent with the colors looking strong and the detail very solid indeed.
First-time director Peter Landesman offers up a solid commentary track where he takes us through the making of the film and offers up praise for his talented cast. It is evident that he is very passionate about the subject matter even if, at times, he tends to simply point out what we are watching.
Also included are six deleted scenes and it is pretty obvious why these were removed as they really don’t add much to the film.