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Parkland review: Zac Efron in scattered drama about JFK assassination

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Director: Peter Landesman; Screenwriter: Peter Landesman; Starring: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale, Marcia Gay Harden; Running time: 94 mins; Certificate: 15


50 years have passed since the assassination of President Kennedy, during which time all manner of conspiracy theories have emerged and been repeatedly raked over. This indie drama featuring Zac Efron takes a very different angle by examining the direct aftermath rather than trying to piece together the events leading up to it, but it's done with no clear sense of direction.

The natural climax of the JFK story is, here, the opener. Paul Giamatti is Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the now infamous footage of the President being gunned down in Dallas. His shock is palpable and so, too, is the highly charged atmosphere at Parkland hospital where the action swiftly moves. Efron is the young doctor, Charles 'Jim' Carrico, who is first to the operating theatre only to realise he has the world's most powerful man bleeding out on the table.

As news filters out to the rest of the country, Zapruder makes the point that Kennedy doesn't stand a chance ("his head just flew to pieces") and, of course, we already know it. Hence, the frantic, ER-style tension that comes across in the hospital scenes is never more than queasily effective and the presence of Jackie Kennedy staggering about in blood-soaked Chanel (Kat Steffens) fails to add weight to the drama.

Zac Efron in Parkland
First-time writer/director Peter Landesman takes the emotive nature of Kennedy's death for granted and those caught up in the ensuing whirlwind remain bystanders rather than fully fleshed-out beings. Naturally, Carrico is under extraordinary pressure, but there is little feeling for what is at stake for him personally, or psychologically if he loses the patient.

Only Marcia Gay Harden dares speak to Jackie, though just to say the equivalent of 'there, there dear' as the nurse whose main duty is to keep the room clear.

The frenzied attempts to save Kennedy's life are very quickly done with, and from there the energy dips dramatically. Zapruder becomes concerned with saving the President's dignity instead as calls come in from the nation's media, desperate to get their mitts on that footage. Getting the coffin on a plane becomes another nightmare that threatens to descend into chaos.

Billy Bob Thornton has first dibs on the Zapruder film as the Secret Service guy who aims to catch the assassin and he's predictably frothy-mouthed at having 'lost his man'. Meanwhile FBI agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston) examines his own conscience after doing surveillance on Lee Harvey Oswald for many months prior.

Landesman doesn't challenge the received wisdom about Oswald, which is fair enough, but Hosty's story is the most intriguing of the lot and it's underdeveloped. In all cases, he never gets too far beyond the initial, visceral reactions to the murder, and the interactions between the leading players are largely superficial.

Also glimpsed are the immediate knock-on effects for Oswald's brother (James Badge Dale), and there is a particularly cruel depiction of their mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver), who refuses to believe the news. Her denial is portrayed as a selfish delusion rather than a symptom of motherly grief. You can't help feeling that there's more to this story than ever meets the eye.

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