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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Parkland' offers a unique, new perspective on JFK assassination

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Colin Hanks, left, and Zac Efron star in "Parkland." (Photo: Exclusive Releasing)

PARKLAND

(PG-13)

4 out of 4 stars

Of the dozen or so feature films dealing with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the only one that mattered up until now was Oliver Stone’s epic “JFK” from 1991. A lightning rod for controversy, it was praised for its’ bravado and reviled for its’ haphazard mixing of fact and conjecture. As just a movie, it was brilliant; as an historical document (which it never was intended to be) it was taken the wrong way.

There are going to be plenty of people who will have many problems with “Parkland” but for none of same reasons as “JFK” There will also be those who will love it — not only for what it says and how it says it — but because its’ content has very little in common with every other JFK assassination movie.

Part (make that most) of the reason why JFK films have been made and watched are because it is the highest-profile conspiracy theory event of all-time. It isn’t the “what,” it’s the “why.” “Parkland” is all what and no why and lends a refreshingly unique new perspective on one of the most historically significant events in U.S. history.

Equally as busy as the twice-as-long “JFK” but more audience friendly with its presentation, “Parkland” has four equally important co-plots that are woven together into a seamless whole with supreme storytelling efficiency. Adapting the book “Four Days in November” by Vincent Bugliosi, director Peter Landesman presents his narrative as if was happening in real time and only shows facets of the story that are acknowledged by everyone as pure fact. We’re only privy to what is being experienced by the characters as it happens and how they react to it. The film never even suggests political bias, the possibly of a conspiracy theory, is devoid of anything bipartisan and/or ideological.

The first sub-plot features the people working at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Lead by two doctors (Zac Efron and Colin Hanks) and a nurse (Marcia Gay Harden), the medical crew and hospital staff are called on to save the president as if he were just another shooting victim. Rightfully given the lions’ share of screen time during the first act, they are pushed to the back-burner in the second but then are brought to the fore in the final third with a similar situation that gives them and us an oddly disquieting and morally-challenging conundrum.

As alluded to in the fictional “In the Line of Fire,” the second sub-plot involves both employees of the Secret Service (led by Billy Bob Thornton) and the FBI in Dallas (focusing on an agent played by Ron Livingston). These agencies are given near-impossible tasks. They must protect the president and prevent crime with what are often just mere bits of partial — or worse — speculative information. Unlike the medical professionals who deal in black and white, the Secret Service and FBI operate mostly in grey areas and get no credit when nothing happens but receive all of the undeserved blame when things go wrong.

The creator of the most famous home movie in history, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) was the man whose presence at Dealey Plaza on that fateful day ignited the plethora of ongoing conspiracy theories and is perhaps the most tragic figure in the film. Presented as a gregarious, optimistic man before the event, Zapruder instantly knew that what he had captured on film resulted in a curse; his life would never be the same again. In three very different, slightly repeating scenes, Landesman shows us what Zapruder saw from unique, previously-unrealized perspectives.

What will likely come as the biggest surprise to even those who consider themselves authorities on the J.F.K. assassination is the inclusion of Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), the older brother of alleged killer Lee Harvey Oswald (an eerily identical Jeremy Strong). A desk employee of some sort at a non-specified Dallas company, Robert found himself negatively connected to an infamous event simply because of a blood relation. He talks to Lee the day after the crime and is given the unenviable task of trying to be both consoler and unwitting mole. If that weren’t enough, Robert had to quell the misplaced monetary-based ambitions and misinformed rantings of his wing-nut mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) who wished to cash-in on the event without a clue that what she was doing was done in the worst taste and completely lacking in decorum.

If there was ever a reason for AMPAS (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) to create a new acting award category, it would be “Parkland.” This movie has no lead performer but the collective efforts by the players prove more than ever that it should be included. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and rarely has there ever been a group effort of on-screen talent that deserves recognition more than the cast of “Parkland.” (Exclusive Releasing)