TIFF Review: 'Parkland'

It would seem that the JFK assassination has been done from every angle, conspiracy to legacy, but "Parkland" begs to differ. For instance, any idea how Oswald's family felt on the day of the shooting? Or the local FBI office's preparation prior? How about the medical team that, in an incredible coincidence, worked on both Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald? It's in these diverse characterizations that "Parkland" mines some interesting scenes, if not in an entirely coherent fashion, resolving as more of an interesting concept than a fully rendered and effective film.

Starting from Kennedy's arrival in Dallas, Peter Landesman's "Parkland" ushers us through the well-known events of the day, foreshadowing the tragedy that is to come. Doctors go about their daily business, Abraham Zapruder is excited that the motorcade will travel right past his office, and the local police and bureau agents are on high alert. Clearly, mistakes will be made, and certain things in the film won't add up, because they also didn't really make sense as it was all happening either. Was Oswald a patsy? Did the FBI know? And so on, a thousand questions can lead you down the well that Oliver Stone ("JFK") has already cinematically jumped down with both feet, but the final takeaway must be: why does it matter anymore? Kennedy's presidency ended on that day, and a nation was left to pick up the pieces. While motive might have been interesting, at one point in history, "Parkland" does well here to avoid most of the controversy, focusing instead on the bleakness and gravity of the situation.

Where "Parkland" stumbles is with emotional resonance. Showing us the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald, Robert (James Badge Dale), is compelling in that it encapsulates the horror that must have come with your sibling rocketing up the "infamous assassins" list, though you had no prior knowledge of the crime, leaving only the wreckage of your life to pick up. But what then? Yes, Robert's life clearly was sent into a tailspin, and his mom, Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) seems like the type of person you'd avoid at all costs, even if you had to cross the street to avoid her, but this doesn't do much to provide context. Robert could be anyone, sure, but once you get over the sympathetic element of the man there's not much else there to hang your hat on. Because, you know, the President dying sort of trumps anything else that's going on that day.

Along those those lines, the medical team that worked on JFK, and then Lee Harvey Oswald, clearly understood the magnitude of the moment, though they were helpless before it. But that's not enough of a story … for a complete story. The sad fact seems to be that all of these plots have been stitched together because they wouldn't have had the strength to stand on their own. Though huge ensemble pieces can be awesome, and often are, there needed to be a bit more connective tissue for this to have impact, because the characters are all in their own orbit, not interacting much with each other, and you can feel this disparate narrative method throughout.

Still, "Parkland" is a relatively watchable film, because the source material it narrates was such a profound moment in our nation's history. The idea of "innocence lost" has been beaten into the ground where the JFK assassination is concerned, but seeing the emotions people would have gone through on the ground level, and not looking back through history, certainly hits home. Really, "Parkland" is at its very best when it is just about the little details, blood on crisp white t-shirts, Jacqueline Kennedy kissing the cheek of Jack one last time, the overwhelming sympathy in the room as people watched this awful event play out in real time. When a character remarks, "What a shitty place to die," you can feel the disgust of northerners who feel Texas took their hero away from them. "Parkland" consciously chooses to focus on prominent alternate characters, in order to convey humanity, such as Zapruder shooting his infamous video, only this choice leaves them a little lost. Unfortunately, they would have been much better off diving in just a little closer, to the people who weren't involved, didn't understand, and were looking around hopelessly in the dark for answers that would never come.

SCORE: 6.2 / 10

"Parkland" will be released in theaters on October 4th.

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and admits to crying, like a sap, a little bit here.