Parkland (It's a Sad Story)

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Named for the Dallas hospital that admitted a mortally wounded JFK and (days later) his assassin, Parkland finds ways to remind you the end of Camelot was a matter of high security…and now that enough people have died classified files have opened so we can make a low-rent ensemble pic about it.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Parkland aspires to docudrama, using actual audio from the events (LBJ’s emergency swearing in, for example) and emblazoning the names of each historical player on the screen as if to prove homework was done. We start before the Dallas parade, include the troubled story of 8mm camera owner Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), enter the ER with JFK and then Oswald, touch on the clamoring press, suffer with the local police and FBI, and finally escape in a plane with Kennedy’s body. As the nation watches a saluting John Boy on TV, the assassins’ brother (James Badge Dale) calls on the kindness of cut rate newspapermen to help him carry his brother’s coffin to the otherwise vacant gravesite.

Directed with a heavy reliance on crash zooms and rack focuses, Parkland recalls the self-consciously revisionist biopic Elizabeth (about young Queen Elizabeth). It’s clear the documentary visuals (hand held camera, overlapping audio) are meant to create tension and a view of chaos but instead it looks like a mess made to cover up an absence of basic materials, conclusive information or quality performances. Parkland resembles a junior version of Emilio Estevez’s Bobby for its extensive friend-casting and coy loyalty to the Kennedys.

This is the directorial debut of the Peter Landesman, the journalist who’s NY Times piece on sex slavery was indicted for partial fictions (as opposed to inaccuracies) by Slate.com. Journalists are held to a higher standard of accuracy than filmmakers, but this subject is sacred ground, and no matter how comprehensive the documentation on any given event a filmmaker will always be called upon to manage without important information. When that happens, directors who heed the call have to adhere to his/her convictions--or movies like this happen.

Parkland goes everywhere and amidst the obviously researched names/places you feel moments of artistic liberty that ring false. In the ever-repeated Zapruder Film (not quite shown in Parkland) you see the first lady reach back over the trunk of the convertible to retrieve the back of her husband’s head. In the ER, a devastated Jackie hands a piece of skull and brain matter to the attending nurse (Marcia Gay Harden). Naturally such an exchange is historically possible but it feels like conjecture, and as it’s the kind of detail that would legitimize a history to audiences that conjecture seems particularly counterfeit. It might be true, but the last thing I want in a dramatization of a major American tragedy is information that “might be true.” I have no desire to question what Jackie “would” do or whether or not Zapruder “may have” had a crisis of conscience. Today’s media is lousy with uncertainty and intentional fallacy; we don’t need more. That fact alone makes embracing ambiguity in a story of this magnitude plain cowardly.

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