Cinema Review: Parkland

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DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman  PRO: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Matt Jackson, Bill Paxton, Nigel Sinclair  DOP: Barry Ackroyd  ED: Markus Czyzewski, DES: Bruce Curtis, Leo Trombetta  MUS: James Newton Howard CAST: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti

Parkland appears 50 years after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. It takes its title from the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken for treatment after they were shot. There are some points of interest, but they’re limited.

 

Writer-director Peter Landesman makes his feature film debut. His script draws on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book Reclaiming History, which documents all aspects of the assassination and runs to over 1,600 pages (that’s 1.5 million words!). The book’s length reflects the array of material that has been published about JFK, ranging from conspiracy theories to eyewitness accounts. Its scope presents quite the challenge to a filmmaker: what can be said that hasn’t been said already? Oliver Stone dazzled audiences in 1991 with his three-hour epic JFK; those expecting a conspiratorial thriller in Parkland shouldn’t hold their breath.

 

Landesman’s short film plays more like a TV drama, drawing on generic detective and medical dramas. Comedian Ernie Kovacs quipped that 1950s television was a medium because it was neither rare nor well done. Landesman’s treatment unfortunately feels more like the latter. He avoids the conspiracy theories, eschews examining President Kennedy’s politics or his legacy, and focuses instead on the more “human interest” aspects: the medical response at the hospital, Abraham Zapruder’s famous 8 mm recording, the investigations commenced by the FBI and the Secret Service, and the reactions of Oswald’s mother and brother Robert.

 

Parkland attempts to inject some interest into events that are really sideshows. When the President died in the hospital, what happened next? A coffin was required, the priest administered the last rites, and there was some dispute between the federal and state agents as to whether an autopsy should be carried out in Dallas. How appealing viewers find these aspects will determine how much they enjoy the film. The period detail, sets and costumes are good, the production budget well spent, but the film still feels lacking when it ends.

 

Its point remains elusive. A dramatic presentation should have some insight into the human condition, people’s emotional involvement in events.  The film’s multi-narrative approach makes this difficult. It introduces myriad characters, rather like listing names for photographs in a book. The players often have little to do other than looked horrified or sad. There is no drama. The filmmakers look for it in the wrong places. Finding space in an aircraft for a coffin was hardly the day’s most pressing problem.

 

Where there is tension, the film misses the mark. It falls into shouty melodrama that lacks conviction. Jackie’s grief is sidelined: she disappears midway during the film. James Badge Dale, playing Robert Oswald, can’t convey his character’s conflict between love for his brother and the damage Oswald’s involvement brings on their family. His unaffected blue eyes fail to register any sign of torment. Celebrated actors contribute little: Billy Bob Thornton, as secret agent Forrest Sorrel, Jackie Weaver, as Oswald’s mother, and top-billed Zac Efron, as Dr Carrico, who treats President Kennedy, don’t make much of an impression in their small parts.

 

Paul Giamatti, playing Zapruder has fleeting good moments, but Landesman mishandles them. Poor integration of live action and archive footage jars early in the film , when Giamatti appears alone on-screen in what must have been a chaotic scene, 30 yards from the motorcade. Later, Landesman cuts pointlessly from different shots of Zapruder when he’s at home with his wife. The use of unconventional angles and jumpy cutting just serve as a pointless effort to give dull material some edge.

 

Zapruder’s story, that of the “world’s most famous home video”, might have resonated in an interesting way today, when ordinary people can easily record images of protests and political violence on their phones. The print media, Life magazine, the New York Times and others, hound Zapruder for use of the disturbing images he captured, and he struggles with his responsibility for such powerful pictures.The Kennedy assassination was a major media event, and Walter Cronkite’s and other broadcasters’ recurrent commentary, along with TV news footage, play a prominent role in the film, tying the various elements together. TV news came of age and demonstrated the medium’s capabilities, and the film reflects the shift.

 

There are worse films than Parkland, but its weak handling and glib dramatic interest make it unappealing as a cinematic attraction. It might make for a passable TV programme.

Disappointing.

John Moran

12A  (See IFCO for details)

93 mins

Parkland is released on 22nd November 2013

Parkland – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgPjt_BRLvY

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Faster

Faster

DIR: George Tillman Jr. WRI: Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton PRO: Tony Gayton, Liz Glotzer, Martin Schafer, Robert Teitel DOP: Michael Grady ED: Dirk Westvelt DES: David Lazan CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace, Tom Berenger, Moon Bloodgood, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje

Medium Paced doesn’t quite have the same ring to it now does it? If ever a there was a movie that could and damn well should have lived up it’s title, it’s Faster. Several exciting sequences surrounded by often banal exposition, Dwayne Johnson’s return to the action genre after over half a decade slumming in generic Disney kiddies fare blasts out of the gate initially only to lose momentum due to a top heavy script and often heavyhanded direction.

Johnson plays the aptly named Driver because well, he drives cars in bank heists. After a stint in prison, our taciturn, tattooed badass gets down to business from the get go and sets out to avenge his brothers death and administer some payback to the scumbags who double crossed him and left him for dead. This is man who means business, has little time for small talk and means business.

The opening reel promises an effective, stripped down B-movie ride with a hint of existentialism. As with Driver, other characters have one name and very little backstory and they are all defined by their actions. In the hands of Walter Hill let’s say, this could have been an excellent genre exercise and though director George Tillman Jr. tries his best he is left hobbled by Tony and Joe Gayton’s excessive screenplay.

After Driver delivers some vigilante justice, making the news he is soon pursued by Cop (Billy Bob Thorton) who true to genre conventions is near retirement, estranged from his wife and kids but here’s the twist, is also a heroin addict. Now, Thorton is a splendid actor and a welcome addition to any film but the film-makers then decide to throw another character into the mix.

Portrayed by Handsome Young Brit Actor Cat. No 47, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Killer is some kind of super amazing highly skilled assassin, a devilishly charming, rich and handsome dude for whom becoming a top level assassin is just another achievement to tick off of his list of Self Improvement 101 along with yoga and adventure sports. He is hired by a mysterious benefactor to off Driver.

Now, if Killer had stayed in the shadows a la Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity, that would have been fine but we also get a whole lot of bland, gooey scenes with him and his pretty plank of a girlfriend played by Taken’s Maggie Grace and Tillman goes overboard on the slick, car ad visuals as he shows us Killers enviously lavish lifestyle.

All this serves to do is distract us from the chief pleasure of watching Mr Johnson’s glower and crack skulls and slows the film to a halt. Worse still, it appears that Jackson-Cohens smug character was invented simply as a showcase that was suggested to studio executives and to Faster’s writing team by a persuasive agent.

Aside from this superfluous plot, there are problems scriptwise as we learn too much about Johnson and Thorton’s characters as the story progresses and explanations are filtered through banal dialogue stripping it of any ambiguity and mystery. As the film limps to its contrived finale, it’s clear that a combination of slack directing, editing and acting (Are you listening Carla Gugino?) almost conspire to completely ruin what should have been a short, brutal, entertaining genre exercise.

The enterprise is salvaged by Dwayne Johnson’s granite like presence in the lead role. He sees this characters redemptive journey through with righteous conviction and determined focus. He is tightly wound, implacable and compelling to watch throughout.

Now, if only the film surrounding him had followed suit.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

Faster is released on 25th March 2011

Faster – Official Website

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