The first 20 minutes of Parkland, available now on home video, are startlingly good. The pace is fast, the footage is expertly mixed with old news reels and the characters settle into their days as if it’s going to be like any other. It’s not. However, once those 20 minutes are over, Parkland doesn’t have anywhere to go and knows it.
It’s got nothing very new or refreshing to add to the endless array of JFK assassination-inspired stories. The only part of the film that really stands out after that first third is the story of Robert Oswald (portrayed by the very engaging James Bale Dadge). If only the whole movie had been about him.
Parkland follows a whole lot of people as they deal with the aftermath of the president’s assassination in Dallas. There’s a fantastic ensemble here (probably due to the fact that respected actors Tom Hanks and Bill Paxton are producers) and all do great things with their roles whether they be minor or major. The ones that really stick out are the doctor trying to save a dying president’s life (Zac Efron), a man with the only footage of one of America’s greatest tragedies (Paul Giamatti), a Secret Service man that’s never lost somebody on the job (Bill Bob Thornton) and the previously mentioned Robert Oswald who deals with the biggest challenge of them all: living in a world where his own brother killed the president.
If Parkland had chosen just one of these characters to focus on, the film might have found some clarity. Instead, most of these actors and their character arcs are limited to very short amounts of screen time. Everybody does great work, but there’s barely enough time to get to know these people, let alone follow them through whole arcs.
Once the film has moved past the initial assassination, it loses a lot of steam. It basically just goes through the motions after that. It can’t tell whose story it’s trying to tell or what exactly it’s trying to say. We watch as the world suffers a great tragedy, but we’ve seen it before and can see it a million other places without having to deal with a film around it all.
The movie slowly decompresses into nothingness over its run time. The only character or story that feels at all unique is the tale of Robert Oswald. Dadge does a great job bringing the complicated journey of the character to life. He’s the one guy we haven’t seen a gazillion other filmmakers take a swing at so it’s interesting to see him here and witness his story being dealt with.
However, other than that the movie is same old-same old. We’ve seen plenty of stories like it, and this one doesn’t really add anything new to the mix save a few things. Director Peter Landesman needed a tripod (the shaky camera thing doesn’t fit the story elements most times) and producers need more of a reason to jump down the JFK story well.
The DVD of Parkland includes a director’s commentary and a collection of deleted scenes that probably should’ve been thrown into the too short movie.
If you do want a story that delves into some new territory factually and emotionally, when it comes to the JFK assassination, then I’d check out Stephen Hunter’s novel from earlier this year, The Third Bullet. It brings out a whole new look at the conspiracy and is a great thriller with more brains than politics. And if you want new context to view the Kennedys in and one of America’s darkest moment in then check out the Joel Surnow produced The Kennedys.