Riveting account of the chaotic events that occurred following Presient Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Named for the hospital where Kennedy was taken, Parkland weaves together the perspectives of a handful of ordinary individuals suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances: the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital; Dallas's chief of the Secret Service; an unwitting cameraman who captured what became the most famous home movie in history; the FBI agents who were visited by Lee Harvey Oswald before the shooting; Oswald's brother and mother; and JFK's political and security team, witnesses to both the president's death and the makeshift inauguration of Lyndon Johnson.
By looking at the tragedy from a number of different viewpoints, Parkland effectively conveys the confusion and horror that surrounded Kennedy's killing. We can see how unprepared everyone in Dallas was that day, and how they all struggled to grasp the devastating implications of it. The pacing, especially in the first half hour, is tight, creating a palpable sense of the bombshell that just hit. The most interesting sections focus on the Secret Service agents, one of whom comments that they're the first in their job ever to lose a president, and on Abraham Zapruder who filmed the assassination on his home camera. Outstandingly portrayed by Giamatti, the Zapruder we see here despises the fact that he filmed the killing. While he cooperates with authorities, he's well aware that the images captured by his camera will be seen by the public, and that deeply troubles him.
The first-rate cast includes James Badge Dale (as Robert Oswald), Marcia Gay Harden (as a head nurse), Billy Bob Thornton (as a Secret Service officer), Ron Livingstone (as an FBI agent haunted by the fear that he may have inadvertently dismissed the threat posed by Oswald), Paul Giamatti (as Abraham Zapruder), Zac Efron (as a young trauma doctor), Jacki Weaver (as Oswald's mother), Tom Welling, Jeremy Strong, Jackie Earle Hayley, Gary Clarke, and Kat Steffens (as a poignantly affecting Jacqueline Kennedy). Each character has their moment to shine and Landesman manages to get some of the best performances from his cast in the moments that highlight the confusion and uncertainty that everyone was feeling on that day. An example of this is the chaotic scene in the operating room where Nurse Nelson is the first to take charge and get the team moving. The situation is highlighted by the fact that the Secret Service, F.B.I. agents and government officials all want to be in the operating room. Also, the frenetic attempts to get Kennedy's coffin aboard Air Force One and the struggle to remove seats so the coffin did not have to be transported in the cargo hold.
Of all the characters in the film, it is Paul Giamatti's portrayal of Abraham Zapruder who is the fastest to recognize the enormity of the event. He knows right away that he has filmed the death of a President and is instantly aware that his film footage will change the fortunes of his family forever. This is brought home by Zapruder's reluctance to hand over a copy of the film to Life Magazine only after they agreed that they would not publish the kill shot. Later he remarks that he wished he had never shot the footage. Parkland shows the extent that Zapruder and the head of the Dallas Secret Service, played by well Billy Bob Thornton, went to have the film developed. The reflectionon Zapruder's eyeglasses as he watches the assassination for the first time is memorable.
Parkland includes an angle not commonly explored in other films about Kennedy's assassination: the reaction by Oswald's family after the shooting, particularly his brother. This is emphasized by a Dallas police officer advising Robert Oswald, well portrayed by James Badge Dale, to leave Texas with the rest of his family and change his name, implying that they would not be safe if they remained in the State. It also touched upon Oswald's burial, in which Robert Oswald had to ask reporters to serve as pall bearers because no one else would. He contrasted well with Jacki Weaver as Oswald's mother Marguerite Oswald who had the deluded notion that her son was actually a government agent assigned to kill Kennedy. She even believes a potential book deal could come out of this tragedy.
Parkland moves at a rapid clip. It explores areas of the shooting and aftermath that have been underrepresented on film. He takes the audience through the events leading up to, and after, one of the most significant moments in American history. At the heart of the film is two very different attempts to save a life and two very different funerals. The scenes in the hospital are so closely shot that you feel like you are right there as the events are unraveling. Landesman's use of hand held cameras heightens the sense of panic and chaos that must have occurred in the operating room as the doctors struggled to save Kennedy. Parkland is a well shot and well-acted drama and is a powerful portrayal of a hugely substantial event in American history. It is compelling and the performances - especially Giamatti's and Dale's - are strong. Parkland" has a documentary-like feel at times. Kennedy is shot seven and a half minutes in; and he's dead 22 minutes in; but the movie is not about him, but rather those who were touched by his violent death. While not bound for classic status, the film still manages to capture a moment in time that changed our country.