See 22nd November 1963 through new eyes in Parkland

Writer/director Peter Landesman’s PARKLAND, a fascinating tale of interwoven stories from 22nd November 1963, is not to be missed.

PARKLAND feels to me like this generation’s JFK. Being completely wowed by Oliver Stone’s phenomenal film when it opened in the UK in 1992, a star-studded exploration into the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 that followed New Orleans attorney Jim Garrison (superbly played by Kevin Costner) try and bring some of the perpetrators of that event to justice, I feel that writer/director Peter Landesman’s fantastically accomplished new movie is like its sibling.

Billy Bob Thornton in Parkland

Billy Bob Thornton is Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels

What’s also similar is the staggering number of terrific actors inhabiting the characters in this film, just as there was in Stone’s landmark movie – we have Jackie Earle Haley, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Marcia Gay Harden, Colin Hanks, Tom Welling, Glenn Morshower, Mark Duplass and Gil Bellows but we focus in particular on six people to carry us through the story. Firstly you have the people whose names you might not know. Forrest Sorrels, a Dallas Secret Service agent in charge of security that day, is played in majestic clipped style by Billy Bob Thornton. Dr Jim Carrachio was one of the doctors at Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was taken after the shooting and he’s played with quiet assurance by Zac Efron. James Hosty, an FBI agent directly connected to the events in Dallas, is superbly portrayed as a man at a moral crossroads by Ron Livingston.

And then there are people whose names you do know. Marguerite Oswald, who briefly became one of the most famous mothers in history and in another of Jacki Weaver’s sensational performances is disturbingly unhinged. Robert Oswald, the older brother of the alleged assassin, who in James Badge Dale‘s absorbing portrayal is further proof that he’s one of the unmissable actors to watch on the screen right now. And finally, Abraham Zapruder, who almost unbelievably filmed the assassination on his home movie camera and is played to his usual spot-on perfection by Paul Giamatti as a man who then slowly watches his life disintegrate in front of his eyes. 

Paul Giamatti in Parkland

Paul Giamatti is Abraham Zapruder

The movie follows these people and the events they are a part of from the morning of Friday, November 22nd to Monday 25th when bizarrely both Kennedy and Oswald were buried on the same day. This striking moment is illustrated beautifully in Badge Dale’s pained face, as he stands in a windswept graveyard in the middle of nowhere – the only place that would bury the murderer of a President – struggling to come to terms with what has happened, both to him and the world he knows. Up to that point, Robert Oswald was just an ordinary family man living his life but after 12:30 on the 22nd November when the assassination took place, his life – like Zapruder’s – was irrevocably changed.

This is highlighted in the police station when Robert goes to visit his brother Lee (a brilliantly opaque Jeremy Strong) to find out why he’s charged with murdering Kennedy and a cop chillingly remarks:

“If I were you, I’d consider changing my name. I’d pray I never needed the help of the Dallas Police Department or the federal government again. I’d pack your things and your wife and those two children of yours, and I’d move as far from here as I could. I’d never come back, even to die.”

I wasn’t alive in 1963 but for some reason, this story has become a fascination for me, from watching Jim Goddard’s stunning 1983 TV mini-series Kennedy starring Martin Sheen; to Stone’s JFK that I saw many times on its release and have revisited many times since; to visiting Dallas in April 1993, going inside the Book Depository and looking out of that sixth-floor window, then standing in Dealey Plaza on that infamous grassy knoll, when it suddenly felt as though you were inside history. So for me, watching PARKLAND was a totally engrossing experience.

Ron Livingston is James Hosty in Parkland

Ron Livingston is FBI agent James Hosty

And though I’ve read and seen a lot about the Kennedy era and in particular that fateful day, what I loved was Landesmann’s take on it – attempting to present a moment as epic and famous as that but from another perspective, the personal one of those people involved, some of whom you know and some who you’re finding out about for the very first time. In presenting the events this way, the movie threw up new pieces of information that I didn’t know before, like Carrachio being one of the doctors to operate on both Kennedy and Oswald (two uncomfortable but riveting scenes) which was completely fascinating; and Hosty, who’s a tiny character in JFK, is seen here in much more detail in his role within the FBI team on the ground and whose presence and actions seem to directly contribute to the mystery of who Oswald really was, that was never solved.

Landesman’s source for all this is Vincent Bugliosi’s book ‘Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy’ – one that I now must seek out and read – and although the focus of both Bugliosi’s book and this movie is not the conspiracy theory of Stone’s film but rather that Oswald was the assassin, it’s more interested in showing what that meant to those whose lives he touched.

The film is shot in his usual superlative style by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and of a brilliant ensemble, I must mention in particular James Badge Dale, Ron Livingston, and Paul Giamatti’s performances, as they allow you to see the beginning glimpses of the private hell that some of these people went through from that day on. So whether you know all about the events that the movie dramatises or are coming to them afresh, I think you’ll find PARKLAND an enthralling watch. See it.