With the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination approaching this November, the world will surely be inundated with tributes, retellings, old newsreel footage, and “where were you?” questions. It is a story that even after all these years continues to mesmerize.
Director Peter Landesman has assembled an all-star cast to create a dramatic re-telling of what transpired in Dallas that day in November, one of the landmark events of the 20th Century. Parkland is a welcome companion piece to the many books and films already available, presenting a point of view rarely seen or read about when the story of JFK’s death is presented. This is the story of the ordinary people who witnessed history.
The ominous tone of the events to come is present from the outset. It is immediately prevalent what is going to occur, with the film opening at the arrival of the President and his wife in Dallas, Texas, and sets the audience on an emotional ledge very quickly. Archival footage of the actual event is seamless merged with dramatic recreation of these people to establish the truth of what the audience is going to witness. We are introduced to several ordinary citizens, doctors, and Secret Service Agents that will ultimately be thrust into notoriety as their paths intertwine on this fateful day.
The director is not interested in recreating the media spectacle that surrounded the assassination, that’s not what this film is. Instead, he is telling a rarely seen or heard side of the story of what happened behind the curtain, the events the public was not privy to. We see what happened in the operating room as the medical staff try to save Kennedy’s life and just days later as the same crew being tasked with trying to save Oswald.
We see the Secret Service trying to figure out what to do in the chaos of it all, improvising their every move as the unthinkable happens to the man they are sworn to protect, we see the shock and trauma experienced by Zapruder as he realizes what he has captured, we see a local Dallas FBI office, as an agent realizes he was previously investigating the man behind the shooting, and the emotional impact on the Oswald family as they begin to realize the enormity of the situation they find themselves in.
The film does not address any of the controversy or conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting and it is not meant to. It is simply recounting the chaos encompassing that day from the side you wouldn’t have seen on the evening news. Meticulously researched, the director’s stylistic choices in crafting the film help heighten the emotional impact on the audience further illustrating what he is trying to achieve. While at times the drama feels forced and exaggerated, the interweaving stories underdeveloped, and maybe not entirely successful in being revelatory, the film is still able convey its message to the viewer in showing new points of view about a story we all think we know. Several scenes throughout should have been left to breathe longer, and had more detail added to create a richer story, but instead some of the impact was blunted by changing focus at inopportune moments.
However, even with these flaws, it does reignite those “what if we could have stopped it?” questions and should appeal to those who continue to be fascinated by this historical event. The ensemble cast delivers fine performances that convey significance and that leave the viewer emotionally affected.