Writer and director Peter Landesman interprets Vincent Bugliosi's book "Four Days in November" for the screen in "Parkland," an almost real-time chronicle of the Kennedy assassination.
I was an embryo on that day, Nov. 22, 1963, and was as effective as the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Dallas police force in protecting the 35th president, code-named "Lancer." The film recounts their collective fumbling through the aftermath of the sniper's shot to the head in a wide-open convertible, attempting to secure various locations, beginning still-debated crime scene investigations, and stumbling into an in-flight transfer of power (and a bloody body).
The only team that managed a slightly better job was located at Parkland Memorial Hospital, led by head trauma nurse Doris Nelson (the taut yet accessible Marcia Gay Harden), who worked amid the infamous gore (pink-suited Jackie Kennedy, silently played by Kat Steffens, gives a handful of skull and gray matter to Nelson) until JFK (Brett Stimely) was declared dead at 1 p.m., only an hour after he landed in Dallas.
Two other stories are intertwined with the president's. Presumed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (a controlled Jeremy Strong), who also murdered a Dallas police officer, and his compulsions take a back seat to the narrative of his brother Robert (a pained James Badge Dale), who knows his and his family's lives were forever changed in that single moment, that Lee "did this to us for all of eternity." Oswald's unstable mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver, in cat-eye glasses) believed that the events were "her story, too," and maintained that her son was an American hero, framed by the government, until her death. Lee also ended up at Parkland Hospital, where he died of a gunshot wound to the gut one day after the president.
The third thread follows Russian immigrant and women's clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder (a resigned Paul Giamatti), whose amateur taping of the presidential motorcade became the most-watched film in history. Zapruder made and gave a copy to the Secret Service, and sold a copy to Life Magazine with the stipulation that the kill shot never be published. The "where are they now" recaps at the end of the film say that Zapruder never touched a camera again.
The film's extras include deleted scenes and the director's commentary, and its documentary feel, the insertion of Walter Cronkite and other's newscasts, attempts to recapture the unbelievable events of the day when everybody remembers where they were. Yet viewers cannot undo the five decades of recollections about the moment America lost its naïveté and this visceral knowing clouds the piece, especially in the overly foreshadowed Zapruder section.
And that's the point. We didn't know the shattering consequences of American vulnerability to hatred and our fanatical access to guns before that fateful day. And we still don't.
Combo Blu-ray and DVD