In competition at this year’s Venice, Peter Landesman’s debut film Parkland (2013) is an efficient and occasionally intriguing reconstruction of the events in Dallas following the JFK assassination of 22 November, 1963. Sadly, this Tom Hanks-produced drama really has no place in competition at a major film festival. Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) wakes from a nap to begin another day of his gruelling residency, Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) heads to work and Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) gives his employees an early lunch as he heads down to Dealey Plaza to shoot some footage of the motorcade.
Parkland is certainly a workmanlike piece of fiction, but its ideal forum would be television. The array of familiar faces – Colin Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass – gives a telethon-like feel of worthiness but the ubiquitous, patriotic dirge of the flugelhorn – which seems a staple of this kind of prestige production – soon begins to grate. The drama of these true events is undeniable and some of the stories hold particular interest. The best is arguably that of Oswald’s, who is handling a mother (a brilliantly dislikeable Jacki Weaver) who seems intent on profiting from the tragedy. Also watchable is Zapruder, who visits various film processing labs with the only footage of the event.
Unfortunately, some of the narratives do get lost along the way and, given the narrow focus of the characters (quite understandably), don’t go through much of an interesting arc. People stand around looking shocked as Secret Service agents hold in their tears. Beyond teaching history in a semi-entertaining fashion, Parkland also serves up nostalgia for a more innocent time, before global terrorism, Homeland Security and the NSA. Landesman’s inaugural outing shows a United States in its first state of shock, where small, seemingly insignificant acts of courage and decency are highlighted.
The Secret Service miss clues, partly because the assassination of a president probably seemed as unthinkable as the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks before it actually happened. This is a time when television and cameras were not ubiquitous, hence the importance of the Zapruder footage. Yet, what is questionable is why Parkland chooses to portray the obviously desperate attempts to resuscitate President Kennedy. Zapruder refuses to release the frames of the film showing the head shot: “He was a dignified man, and what happened to him was not dignified.” Times have obviously changed.
The 70th Venice Film Festival takes place from 28 August to 7 September, 2013. For more of our Venice 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.