November 22nd, 1963 was a day that changed the world forever – when young American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We follow in almost real time a handful of individuals forced to make split-second decisions after this incomprehensible event that would change their lives and forever alter our world’s landscape: the young doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the chief of the Dallas Secret Service, the unwitting cameraman who captured what has become the most watched and examined film in history, the FBI Agents who had gunman Lee Harvey Oswald within their grasp and Vice President Lyndon Johnson who had to take control of a country in a moment’s notice. Thrust into a scenario of unprecedented drama with unimaginable consequences, these key characters respond with shock, outrage, determination and courage. Woven together, their seemingly disparate perspectives make one of the most thrilling and powerful stories never told. From producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman and writer/director Peter Landesman, Parkland is the true story behind a tragic day in history you thought you knew, but didn’t, and couldn’t, until now… 50 years later.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has inspired a mountain of speculative dissections and re-creations, most notably Oliver Stone's propulsive conspiracy grab-bag JFK. The measured Parkland serves as a polar opposite to Stone's earlier historical frenzy, delivering an admirably clear-eyed look at the events that occurred. Taking its title from the Dallas county hospital, it downplays the How and Why in favor of the actual What, detailing the bystanders and onlookers whose lives were forever changed on 11/22/63. Inspired by Vincent Bugliosi's book Reclaiming History, writer-director Peter Landesman begins with the chaos of Dealey Plaza and then expands outward, assuming the viewpoints of those caught in the traumatic wake, including the determined hospital workers (Zac Efron and Marcia Gay Harden), an amateur photographer (Paul Giamatti as a terrifically twitchy Abraham Zapruder), and a dogged FBI agent (Ron Livingston) haunted by his prior knowledge of the assassin's identity. Landesman, a former journalist making his directorial debut, does a commendable job in juggling the multiple characters, although the sheer amount of information on display does admittedly give the film a dry, procedural air at times. (Thank goodness for Billy Bob Thornton, as Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels, who kicks things back into high gear with a rousing, ear-popping outburst.) Historical fidelity aside, the best reason to see Parkland belongs to the great character actor James Badge Dale, who gives a devastatingly naturalistic performance as Lee Harvey Oswald's brother Robert, an ordinary man all too aware of the catastrophic events unfolding around him. He can see the future, and his family's place in it. --Andrew Wright