Death of a president

By Gerald McCusker

What’s the story? An infamous day in the history of the USA (22nd November 1963), the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy sent shockwaves across the globe. The horror of the tragedy was even more profound for the people caught up in the traumatic events of that dreadful day.

It all begins as a very ordinary day for the staff at Parkland hospital in Dallas, as Doctor Carrico (Zac Efron) goes about his usual business and Nurse Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden) begins her shift. Little do they know that the next four days are going to be the most memorable of their lives.

Likewise, local businessman and amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) leaves work early to set up his home movie camera to get the perfect shot of the President’s motorcade.

But elation quickly turns to despair as the deadly shots ring out and Zapruder’s graphic footage of the President’s murder becomes invaluable evidence and of much interest to the head of Kennedy’s security detail, Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton).

In the ensuing pandemonium, the race to save the badly wounded President is hopelessly futile and, as the nation begins to mourn the death of a much-loved leader, a prime suspect emerges from the shadows.

But the chaos is far from over…

Released in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, Parkland aims to tell the story of what happened from the point of view of a number of ordinary people caught up in the chaos of that terrible day.

Adapted from Vincent Bugliosi’s book, Four Days in November, director Peter Landesman takes inspiration from the matter-of-fact style of the book and, avoiding the temptation to entertain any of the many conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination, Parkland very much focuses on the minute-by-minute nature of the event.

Like Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, we’re given a glimpse of what happened from the different perspectives of the different people directly and indirectly involved but, unlike Bobby, Parkland lacks the emotional pay-off. Bobby had more time to play with its characters, but Parkland’s characters get lost in the frenzy.

Landesman, to his credit, gives Parkland a realistic, documentary style and, by cutting stock footage in along with the live action, he really captures the look and feel of the era superbly.

And, if anything, it is Parkland’s more subtle moments that work best.  We’re never directly shown the graphic nature of the Zapruder film face on, instead, we simply see haunting glimpses of its violence in partial reflections.

The scenes depicting the honourable funeral of the slain President, which are intercut alongside the lonely burial of Lee Harvey Oswald, highlight the senseless waste of the President’s murder and prove to be Parkland’s finer, more provocative moments.

Final word: A solid drama with a great cast and levelled performances, although it lacks a certain emotional punch, it’s still worth a look if you’re looking for a fresh perspective on that infamous day in November.

Parkland (15)
Director: Peter Landesman
Starring: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton
Rating: ★★★

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