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Nearing the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination its not a huge shock for Hollywood to coordinate yet another film dramatizing the American tragedy around the milestone. With Oscar season just around the corner all any studio would have to do is film a half decent script depicting that dark day in American history, add in some long patriotic dialogue, cast a few big stars, and let the nominations take care of themselves. Parkland does none of those things and is a better film for it.
The film is a jarring recreation of the infamous events of November22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, and the three days that followed. This isn't a conspiracy theory film, its not a thriller, or a 'who-done-it'. Parkland is almost mute of genre. Since the film only takes place during the course of those four days there is none of those cinematic highs and lows, silver-linings, or happy endings. The film's director (Peter Landesman) doesn't try to add tension to scene or make moments more dramatic than they already were. Landesman obviously made a conscious choice to play it straight and let the volume of historical events speak for themselves. So much so that the film only uses glimpses of that notorious footage, Best Fashion Jewelry and never shows or acts out the killer shot, making the outcome implied while never losing the power of the incident. These are choices that probably won't win over a lot of the regular audience member, but a refreshing attempt from a real life adaption that gives equal respect to all parties that were involved. Even to the Oswald family.
As I mentioned there are none of those big movie moments speeches that most history based film adaptations love to try and interject into the record books, but Parkland does take a unique yet still Hollywood style route with this story in its casting. The story's biggest roles maybe President Kennedy and the First Lady, Jackie O, yet they are essentially played be stand-ins or extras; only seen in glimpse or intentional blocked shots. A few names like Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, or even Zac Efron initially standout in the film's promotion however there are no leading men or women here. The entire cast here are all in supporting roles, all the while still spaced enough apart in the story from each other. That being said almost everyone in this ensemble cast is instantly recognisable and their performances are spot on. Names like Colin Hanks (Orange County), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Tom Welling (Smallville), Jackie Earle Haley (A Nightmare on Elm Street), David Harbour (Newsroom), Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), and a ton of other notable names and faces from TV and film that appear even if only to come on screen for one line.
With the bulk of the film taking place during the day of the assassination on November 22, the movie does begin to drag in the three remaining days that follow. That final portion of the movie focuses mostly on the Oswald family leading up to the death of Lee Harvey shortly after his arrested. Maybe its because Parkland's story stays within Dallas, and rarely touches on the rest of the United States for the aftermath of that event, that the film's third act kind of falls flat. That being said it is refreshing to see a film take the risk and end on the depressing reality of what happened after that day without the predictable cheesy conclusion. The empathy directed at the Oswald family might polarize some American audiences, seeing it as sympathy for the devil in some ways, but I think humanizes the whole story from each side.
Parkland will probably go under the Academy's radar come nomination time just because of the lack of significant sized performances. Each actor or actress have great standout moments with their characters but that's all this film is; a series of standout moments. It's not a bad thing, and I enjoyed the film because of the way it was put together, it's just not going to appeal to the average movie-goer without the traditional studio and theatrical architecture. I commend Landesman's choices for telling this story the way he did, Fashion Jewelry For Sale and for not turning the roles of actual people during those moments into some larger than life characters in order to dramatize an already dramatic event.
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Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.