Parkland - DVD Review

'Landesman knows he doesn’t need to overegg the pudding; history is more than good enough to make Parkland truly compelling'.

Take my advice: go into Parkland expecting a pure historical drama, rather than another conspiracy-driven political thriller of the type that have traditionally put the assassination of President John F. Kennedy onto the big screen. If you can assume this viewpoint, most of the criticisms aimed at Peter Landesman’s taut ninety-minute slice of 1963 Texas actually emerge as some of the film's strongest elements

Landesman’s focus is placed firmly here on those who, in most other JFK films, would be bit parts and supporting players. Kennedy himself is seen only through archive footage and glimpses here and there during the film’s opening act. Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (Sean McGraw), whilst vital elements of the story, are supporting characters. Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) gets one major scene. The choice to concentrate instead on the everyday people affected by one of the defining moments of the 20th Century as it happened gives Landesman’s film both palpable authenticity and understated tragedy.

After an unsure first few minutes setting up the presidential visit (which, on reflection, may not have even been needed), Landesman throws you straight into the trauma room of Parkland Hospital. The director opens with a sequence of irrefutable tension which captures superbly the chaos, shock and genuine heartbreak experienced between Kennedy’s arrival at the hospital and his death. It’s an undeniably painful watch, trounced only by the eerily uncomfortable scene of Air Force One’s inner furnishings being hastily ripped apart by the Secret Service to accommodate Kennedy’s coffin.

Landesman makes sure he doesn’t try to take in too much, whilst at the same time skilfully dividing the film’s time between several key individuals. Each has their own story - unremarkable perhaps when compared to the oft-touted idea of a national conspiracy, but fascinating when you consider how these people’s lives were irrevocably transformed by the assassination. Landesman knows he doesn’t need to overegg the pudding; history is more than good enough to make Parkland truly compelling.

The bonafide ensemble cast is replete with talent from reliable veterans such as Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden and Paul Giamatti as well as rising stars in Zac Efron and James Badge Dale. All are impressive, feeling well cast and never attempting to snatch the limelight for themselves. Landesman’s authentic style of filmmaking is matched almost as successfully by his well-crafted script. Only occasionally does he allow his players to slip a little too much into sounding like Hollywood characters rather than the real people he is largely successful in crafting them as.

Landesman’s near-total disinterest in any of the conspiracy theories which have loomed perpetually over President Kennedy’s murder may turn some away from Parkland. It shouldn’t. Whilst there are arguably a few moments here which could have been spiced up by the director putting forward an agenda, in the end that’s neither the film Parkland was made to be nor the film it needed to be. Landesman’s film feels so refreshing and earnest precisely because the director refuses to dirty his hands with the cynical machinations of others.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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