TIFF 2013: Parkland Review


Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder in “Parkland.”

I chose to see Parkland based solely on watching its trailer. The actual synopsis of the film (a recreation of the JFK assassination and its aftermath on the lives of people in Dallas that day) sounded a bit too much like PBS Documentary of the Month material. But the trailer gives the almost fifty-year-old event a vital urgency and focuses on peripheral characters (Abraham Zapruder comes to mind) whose stories haven’t been given the Hollywood treatment before. It’s a great trailer, but great trailers don’t make great movies.

Where Parkland stumbles is in its cardboard portrayal of these characters and reducing every scene into a digestible soundbite. Parkland has a fantastically talented cast (Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Zac Efron, James Badge Dale, ad nauseum) but they’re utterly wasted in the film. Each actor is onscreen for maybe ten minutes,and they generally look anxious, frustrated, or upset. Giamatti and Badge Dale do their best with the material and create not fully-fledged characters, but at least two-dimensional ones.

The second problem I had with the film is that the dialogue feels a bit too written. Take for example a scene where Badge Dale’s character (Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother) visits his sibling in the police station and a Dallas detective asks him what Oswald said. He replies: “I don’t know. [Pause] I don’t even know the man in there.” Cue dramatic walk away from Dallas detective and cut to next storyline. There’s exchanges like that throughout the film. They play really well in a trailer format (which explains why Parkland‘s trailer is terrific), but as a feature, the film feels lifeless (too soon?).

There’s some commendable work done in the movie, and one of the most interesting aspects is its historical accuracy. I haven’t read much about the JFK assassination, so I could be proven wrong, but in the Q & A after the film, the director claimed that every scene in the movie has a historical basis and that some sequences are based on actual transcripts between the real individuals. It’s a pretty impressive feat and the filmic equivalent of an Erik Larson book.

There’s a movie store in Toronto I sometimes frequent to rent obscure titles and the owner has a philosophy: he won’t put mediocre movies on his store shelves. By mediocre he means the films that don’t take risks, those that are simply run-of-the-mill vanilla titles that may be finely directed, acted, and written, but are so inoffensive and unmemorable that they don’t leave a lasting impression. Based on that philosophy, the movies he offers are of two distinct varieties: the most schlocky, tasteless, so-bad-they’re-good films on one hand, and on the other, the most intelligent, effective, and genre-pushing titles that film has to offer. I doubt I’ll be seeing Parkland on his shelves.

Grade: C+


One Response to TIFF 2013: Parkland Review

  1. Anthony says:

    Appreciate it, Ample knowledge.

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