Is Parkland respectful towards its source material and depiction of the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Yes. Is it accurate to its time period? Sure is. Are the performances worthwhile? You betcha.
However, even though Peter Landesman’s film has plenty of good things going for it, I felt detached from the movie most of time. I couldn’t fully invest my feelings into it, which is troublesome seeing as the film is an account of the saddening events after the infamous kill.
The problem with Parkland is that while it is competent in specific areas, it comes up short in representing itself as anything else but a reenactment performed by instantly familiar famous faces.
The docudrama style the film demonstrates is shot and edited well – even if the cinematography becomes shakier as the tension and danger builds. Also, Parkland does a great job integrating real-life video with its story. It thoroughly makes audiences believe we’re caught in the middle of this historic memory.
Then, more of the cast is introduced – and, we can’t see past who they are off-screen. When we see Zac Efron as Jim Carrico (the doctor who tried to save JFK from an inevitable demise), all we can visualize is Efron in scrubs. When Ron Livingston makes an introduction as FBI’s James Hosty, all we make out is Livingston behind a desk. It almost dares audiences to think of Office Space.
As the stacked cast makes more appearances, movie goers are transfixed on how many actors they recognize instead of the action that’s going on. When I saw Jackie Earle Haley enter the scene as a called upon priest, I almost forgot what was going on in the movie because I was so distracted. This is a major setback being that his appearance is during one of the more climactic scenes in Parkland.
As I made clear, none of the performances are bad and all of the players bring their A-game to the table. Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti, and Jacki Weaver are the most memorable screen presences. Even the dialogue in some of the one-on-one exchanges are heartfelt enough to keep us tuned in.
But even then, the authenticity in the emotion is blown because we can see through the façade and are constantly reminded we’re watching a movie. It doesn’t matter how hard Landesman tries to convince audiences otherwise with snippets of text informing movie goers of who’s who as they make their way onto the screen for the first time.
In a docudrama like this, the production almost needs to stick to no-namers – completely obliterating this hurdle. It works with Kat Steffens who plays First Lady Jackie Kennedy. We barely recognize her and that’s what makes her reactions feel so real.
Landesman’s film chugs along at a good pace, never allowing the film to take a break from the hazards in these stories. I would’ve appreciated the film more, however, if it offered some more insight or speculations about these important people instead of skimming the surface. I would’ve loved to know more about the intimacy behind Livingston’s secrets or Weaver’s undying and unintentional denial towards her wanted son.
Parkland is not the sweeping Oscar bait it wants to be (except for maybe a nod for its costuming and quite possibly an overdue one for Giamatti), but its good enough as a soft recommendation for anyone looking for something to pass the time with just enough adequacy to do the trick.