Parkland is an outstanding achievement for a first-time director. Peter Landesman crafts an engaging narrative out of a story most people know, at least half of, by heart. Original newsreel footage is mixed with the current cinematography with real skill, reminiscent of the electric opening 20 minutes of Ben Affleck’s Argo last year. What’s more, the film never feels unrealistic or sensationalised. Never do you feel that Landesman’s script is inventing for the sake of drama.
As far as the cast goes the standout performances come from some of the more secondary roles, namely Zac Efron as Dr Carrico and James Badge Dale as Robert Oswald. Both roles share the status of being just outside of the main thrust of the drama. They are not the protagonist or antagonist of any story but their own. Efron, having well and truly grown up from his High School Musical days, gives a masterclass in playing stoicism without appearing closed or hard. His portrayal of the conflict between compassion, patriotism and the Hippocratic oath is possibly the most interesting part of the film. Dale’s performance similarly presents the turmoil involved in discovering his brother’s crime. Yet it seems as if his talent is underused in such an archetypical role; we have seen deep betrayals many times on film.
The film’s narrative divides between the national tragedy as opposed to the human tragedies that each character experiences. It seems to me that the power in this film comes from the personal stories and the juxtaposition between the personal and national. This is most evident in the portrayal of both Kennedy’s and Oswald’s funeral, the pomp and circumstance as compared to a grave no one will fill. This sequence in particular is a triumph of editing and cinematography. It demonstrates that Landesman’s talent lies a long way away from the gritty pseudo-documentary style of Parkland’s opening. The weakest parts of the film are the most documentary; when it focuses too closely on the national tragedy, the government officials, the national grief. I think that this is ultimately due to the massive cultural shift between the filmmaker and a global audience. These scenes are, all told, too American. As an English viewer it is inconceivable to me that a political figure could be so adored. Parkland, when it can, revels in this idolatry and loyalty, relying on those embedded cultural notions to land its emotional beats. Even when compared to the closest English equivalent, Princess Diana, it still doesn’t sit right on the foreign palate.
- Entertainment: 3/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 2/5