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Parkland (Blu-ray Review)

1 Nov, 2013 By: John Latchem

Street 11/5/13
Box Office $0.64 million
$19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 BD/DVD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for bloody sequences of ER trauma procedures, some violent images and language, and smoking throughout.
Stars Paul Giamatti, James Badge Dale, Ron Livingston, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, David Harbour, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Gil Bellows, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley, Jacki Weaver.

Refreshingly, Parkland is less interested in grand plots and conspiracies than it is with telling the personal stories of those most closely connected to the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s death. The film, obviously timed for the 50th anniversary of the assassination, does a good job of portraying those surrounding the president, from his advisers to his secret service detail, as engulfed by the chaos, almost completely unsure of how to proceed in the wake of such incomprehensible tragedy.

This was the point, according to writer-director Peter Landesman, who shot the film primarily with hand-held cameras to immerse the audience in that feeling of uncertainty that permeated in the days after the shooting.

The film takes its name from Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Dallas medical facility where Kennedy was rushed immediately after the shooting and pronounced dead despite the valiant efforts of the doctors on hand, though the cause seems hopeless even before First Lady Jackie Kennedy walks into the room holding a chunk of the president’s brain.

Two days later, JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, would end dying there as well after being shot by Jack Ruby. The parallel scenes of the same doctors working on both represent one of the film’s more on-the-nose dramatizations of the connection between Oswald and JFK beyond one shooting the other.

JFK buffs will probably get a kick out of seeing some of the less-publicized stories that occurred that weekend in Dallas. A major one is the jurisdictional scuffle between the secret service, who wanted to take JFK’s body back to Washington, D.C., and the local medical examiner who claimed, correctly, that the body was evidence in a murder investigation and couldn’t be released before a proper autopsy (at the time, assassinating the president wasn’t a specific federal crime). Since new president Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t leave without Jackie, and she wouldn’t leave without the body, the secret service declared they were superseding local law and took off with the body.

But the two most compelling stories in the film involve two characters who never met the president. One involves Lee’s brother Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), who has to deal with the immediate shame brought upon his family name. Then there’s Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who became famous for filming the assassination, and seems burdened by guilt for having done so, as if his passive observation symbolized by the film represents the helplessness of a nation unable to prevent the loss of its most public of figures.

The closest the film comes to sniffing a conspiracy involves a subplot at an FBI field office, when a couple of agents decide it would be easier to hide any evidence that Oswald visited them 10 days before the assassination, rather than deal with the embarrassment of public perception that they could have stopped him.

The Blu-ray doesn’t offer much in the way of extras, with about six-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes and a Landesman commentary that offers a few insights but is mostly an exercise of the director reciting what’s happening on the screen.

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