Fifty years on from President John F Kennedy's assassination in a Dallas motorcade, conspiracy theories continue regarding the nature and motive of his murder. Oliver Stone's controversial 1993 pseudo-investigation 'JFK' remains the most prominent such offering, and perhaps the most influential film about Kennedy. Ensemble drama 'Parkland' is seeking to change that, offering a more grounded and different perspective on the assassination.
'Parkland' concerns itself less with Kennedy himself and more with less auspicious figures who found themselves caught up in unexpected and harrowing circumstances. Journalist-turned-screenwriter Peter Landesman recreates the shooting but focusses more on the aftermath, with Kennedy transported to the care of medical staff at the Parkland Hospital, while the FBI and Secret Service desperately try to uncover details via any means necessary, including amateur footage shot by Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) - who later is caught in a bidding war for the clip of Kennedy's death.
Lee Harvey Oswald is fingered as the killer, albeit with reservations expressed in the film. Much like Kennedy however, the focus is shifted away from this central figure - instead, it is Oswald's brother (James Badge Dale) and mother (Jacki Weaver) who are given significantly more screentime as they are forced to deal with the actions of their family member. Which they do in quite staggeringly different ways.
The cast assembled is quite stunning - critical darlings including Jackie Earle Haley, Marcia Gay Haden, and the aforementioned Weaver and Giamatti, all appear. Established actors such as Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, and Zac Efron also have prominent roles. Quite how first time director Landesman recruited such an impressive array of acting talent is perhaps worthy of its own conspiracy theory.
'Parkland' captures the chaos and confusion of Kennedy's death, handling the moral dilemma of Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) and the difficulties faced by Oswald's brother (James Badge Dale) particularly well. The unfolding drama and history is largely treated with respect, although Weaver's portrayal of Oswald's eccentric mother feels a little over-egged in relation to the other performances.
Landesman is wise enough to avoid making 'Parkland' into a Kennedy hagiography yet the main issue with the film becomes its lack of insight and focus, resulting in more of a descriptive than an analytical affair. The melodrama and wealth of characters would arguably have been better served as an episodic television series, potentially more fully-formed and memorable.
'Parkland' is out today in UK cinemas, through Koch Media.