Parkland came out this weekend, and I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I was pretty disappointed. I’m a pretty big fan of movies based on true stories, which this one was, obviously but I kind of prefer for them to take some kind of position or opinion on the events they’re portraying. Otherwise why make a movie, right? Why not just read a history textbook or do some genuwine research.
The movie takes place on November 22nd, 1963, the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, with the idea being that the story is told through the perspective of the events that unfold at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was taken directly after he was shot. It also happens to be the same place that his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was taken after he was shot in turn by Jack Ruby. And what an interesting story that is! A president and his assassin being treated at the same hospital. There’s a lot there to unpack, don’t you think? Definitely worth a movie.
But instead the film jumps around to a variety of locations, staying long enough at each one to pique my interest at what might have happened there the rest of the day, then skipping off somewhere else to repeat the process all over again. You never stay one place long enough to get the feel for that environment, and the jerky, obstructed camera work ensures that you don’t even get to look at the things that you want to look at. It’s obviously intentional, but watching this movie felt like standing in a crowd of people and never getting to look at or hear about the things that were actually interesting.
A parade of names flies by you of people crucial to that day, but we don’t stick with any of them long enough for their characters’ intricacies to stay with us. We have no idea what they’re thinking or feeling, just that they encountered JFK on that day and the director felt obliged to trot them out so we could feel a flash of recognition at seeing their name on the screen. But we only ever meet each character one or two times, and then we’re back to wildly cramming events into the allotted ninety-three minutes.
But even if that hadn’t been annoying, the movie never actually takes a stand or digs deeper into the obvious controversy surrounding this event. If you know a single thing about JFK’s assassination, you know that a large majority of people aren’t satisfied with the explanation…so I think I was pretty justified in expecting the movie to either present their own theory or get on board with one of the standard ones. Because again — what’s the point of making a movie otherwise?
But instead they just present the facts that are provable, in a neat line, never following up with any of the hints they drop or making any attempt to revisit (let alone tie up) any of the loose ends in their own plot line. They just pretend like having it based at the hospital is enough of a perspective, and even there they missed a ton of opportunities to delve more deeply into a real narrative. For example, there was a moment when someone was about to roll Oswald into the same room that Kennedy had died in, and everything is clipping along at such a gait that there’s only one line dedicated to making sure that doesn’t happen. It’s delivered fleetingly by Marcia Gay Harden (who was great, as always) in a moment with a ton of background noise, and never returned to or clarified.
And the whole movie was like that. Moments for us to view were selected seemingly at random, portrayed, and then moved past.There was no way to know why certain scenes were included, except that they vaguely involved JFK. Any time you meet a new character or hear something interesting and think, “Oh, I bet that will be important later,” it will not be. In real life maybe it was important, but not in this movie. Instead of taking the opportunity to show the assassination from a different perspective, they seem to have decided to show it from every perspective, giving none credence and taking zero advantage of the benefit of hindsight that we have now, fifty years after the fact.
It is, quite simply, a rehashing of the most basic facts, set in crisp Technicolor with some music behind it and some unduly long shots of Zac Efron struggling to emote. Spend a few minutes on Wikipedia reading about the real story and save yourself the $13 and ninety minutes.