One of the saddest days of American history was November 22, 1963, or the day that president John F. Kennedy was assassinated. To give a brief history lesson, John Kennedy was one of the biggest and brightest presidents of American history. He was not only a big name, but symbolized an era of improvement, with his work on the space race, stopping segregation, and avoiding disaster from the Cuban Missle Crisis. He laid the ground work for future achievements, and his death was a shock to all of America.
When the film about this infamous day Parkland was being released, it rose on my anticipation radar. As the history buff I am, it seemed like the filmmakers were doing the material justice, by gathering an all star cast to capture these many perspectives of this event. The trailers for the film also looked solid, with some nice stylistic touches and pathos from its actors. Then came the Toronto International Film Festival premiere, in which the film was largely panned by critics and audiences. Despite still holding hope, Parkland is sadly a rather disappointing and disjointed flick that wastes such great material.
Parkland follows the events of the tragic day of John F. Kennedy’s death, through the eyes of the FBI agents who could have stopped it, the doctors who tried to save the day, and the casual civilian who witnessed it all go down.
With such a great cast, its no surprise that the performance are up to their usual level. Most of the performances are solid, but the stand outs have to be Paul Giamatti and Zac Efron for their respective roles. Giamatti has always been a consistently good actor in more supporting roles than leading, but gets a chance to shine here as one of the leads of the ensemble. Giamatti exudes strong emotions, and he is able to take a kind of a nothing character and bring value to him. Efron is developing into a solid actor himself, and while he is only in the movie for about ten minutes, he makes the most of it. Like Giamatti, his strong emotion brought to the role gives depth to a sub-par character.
That is not to say the rest of the cast does a bad job, they all give solid performances. Talent like Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass and Jacki Weaver all give solid performances in small role, and give credibility to the film and the film’s respective characters.
Visually, the film is well put together. First time director Peter Landesman does a nice job of capturing the period, while not going over the top with it, and compromising a respectable look. Landesman thankfully doesn’t shoot the film like most period pieces, with just wan color. Instead, he shoots it with a regular color scheme, and includes some nice stylistic touches like archival footage. For a first timer, he does a great job with the visuals.
Parkland actually starts off promising. The first twenty to thirty minutes are near-great, as this is mainly the incident itself, from JFK’s fatal shot, to the doctors trying to save him. The raw emotion and performances are at their peak here, with the struggle of trying to keep the President alive evident. Sadly though, the film fails to ever match that throughout the rest of its running time.
The pacing here is off in a several ways. After this gut-punch of emotion at the starts, the film’s pace slows down significantly, which is jarring to say the least. Not only that, but the movie has the issue of not being long enough to give a detailed view of all these characters, but feeling longer than it really should be. How a movie has this conundrum is odd to me, but Parkland fits in that category for sure.
Playing in with the pacing problem is the fact there is too much going on in the film. There are about five different storylines here, and for a roughly 90 minute movie, this is not enough time for most of these arcs to get the development they deserved. Instead of nailing just a few areas, Parkland instead bites off way more than it can chew in its running time, and ends up with most of it coming out half-baked.
Parkland is missing a point of view or specific perspective. Like a car driving without a map, the film is aimless, just kind of wandering from story arc to arc without rhyme or reason. Its the kind of film that you dont know what is coming up next, but it seems like the writer also does not know what is next. When Movie 43 has more direction than a movie, that is a major problem. This falls back into Landesman’s arms, as he not only directed the film, but wrote it as well.
For all of the different perspectives, half of them are just dull. While the parts of the film including the panicked Paul Giamatti and the stressed doctors were engaging, most of the arc’s were just so-so. Probably the weakest arc is the one that took up the most of the film’s third act, which was the story of the assassin of JFK, Lee Oswald, and his family. It largely feels like after the first five minutes or so, this story ran out of steam. Then there is the arc with the FBI agents, which was just kind of dry after the initial incident due to the lack of emotion it had.
That is where the film’s most glaring flaw comes, lack of emotion. After the initial incident, the film could never retain that same sucker punch of emotion again, and instead lacked that. Instead, the rest of the film is dry as can be. This is due to a combination of all the film’s problems, from the lack of perspective to focus. Considering the emotion of the situation itself, from the mass hysteria of people to government officials, its a letdown that it could not be conveyed throughout.
A personal issue is a bit of a silly one, and one I’ve mentioned before in past movie reviews. Personally, I get both Mark Duplass and Ron Livingston confused all the time, they just look similar and have very similar personalities. The fact that both were in the film, and looked even more similar than usual, confused me to no end.
Despite a promising start, Parkland quickly turns into an aimless mess, that fails to follow through executing its great concept. Feels more fit for a history channel special than a narrative feature film.
Take a Shot: For each time a new actor pops up.
Take a Drink: During each shouting match between characters.
Take a Shot: For each long, dull, character speech.