Parkland chalks one up for the little people, the largely unheralded workers and citizens who were just going about their lives on that fateful day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. That event, which carried over through the next two days when Jack Ruby murdered the alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, shocked the nation and the world. Glibly, we often refer to those days as the time when we, as a people, lost our innocence, and concurrently discovered the power of television to build community and shape reality. However, those in Dallas whose hands were literally and metaphorically bloodied in the tragedy’s aftermath experienced the shock with greater immediacy and intensity. Reeling from the trauma, these individuals still carried out their duties and performed their jobs. These are the people profiled in this film.
Named for the Dallas hospital where the bodies of both Kennedy and Oswald were taken in vain after each shooting, Parkland is a study of grace under pressure and fortitude amid chaos. Zac Efron plays the resident on call, Marcia Gay Harden the head trauma nurse, and Colin Hanks the chief resident. While they work frantically and fruitlessly, representatives from the FBI, Secret Service, and the Dallas Police Department buzz around them trying to figure out what to do in such unprecedented circumstances. Meanwhile, pandemonium is afoot back at each respective group’s Dallas headquarters. Then there’s Oswald’s brother (Dale), who hears a radio report while at work that his sibling has been arrested for the crime, and his delusional mother Marguerite (Weaver), who declares her jailed son to be a national hero. And of course there’s Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), a downtown businessman who famously captured the Kennedy kill shot on the amateur film he shot of the motorcade.
The film cross-cuts among all these figures as it progresses. Little is learned about the individuals, however, and certainly the events of those days are already well-known. (The film is based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.) What Parkland does best is reveal little tidbits of information: the difficulty of getting Zapruder’s 8mm film developed locally, the cabin wall on Air Force One that had to be sawed away to get Kennedy’s casket on the plane, and the doctor’s order to cut off the president’s trousers but leave his boxer shorts on. Filmed in Austin, Parkland also benefits from the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker, United 93), who is adept at creating a news-footage feel. Parkland adds no significant knowledge to history or conspiracy theorists, but such details as the way Zapruder’s scrunched-up eye pops wide open when he witnesses what will be forever imprinted on his retina and amateur film are vivid.
Parkland, Peter Landesman, Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale, Ron Livingston, Jacki Weaver, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley, Kat Steffens, Tom Welling, David Harbour, Jeremy Strong, Mark Duplass, Gil Bellows, Rory Cochrane, Austin Nichols