'Parkland' shines new light on Kennedy assassination
05:00 AM, Jul 28, 2013
Peter Landesman had an ambitious task with his film Parkland — finding a fresh look at the thoroughly examined assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The screenwriter and first-time director focused on the smaller players with vital but overlooked roles in the chaotic drama which played out on Nov. 22, 1963.
“This is a movie about the ground truth from the ground level,” Landesman says about the film due out Sept. 20. “What surprised me was the power and poignancy of those who survived that day and the three that followed — the heroism, the instincts and the pathos of those swept up in this tsunami. This is an event that happened to individuals.”
After the motorcade shooting in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead despite desperate attempts to save his life. His assailant, Lee Harvey Oswald, died in the same hospital two days later after being shot in the stomach.
The unraveling and intertwining narrative stays away from prominent characters such as the Kennedys and instead explores the besieged hospital staff — with Zac Efron playing the rookie doctor on duty and Marcia Gay Harden as the head nurse in the trauma room. The staff was told only that the president was on the way to the hospital, not of the terrible events which had transpired.
“No one was prepared for what was coming. They thought the president had the flu,” says Landesman.
Paul Giamatti plays Abraham Zapruder, the accidental witness who happened to be filming the motorcade. “That 26 seconds of film changed his life and all of our lives forever,” says Landesman. “It’s the most examined and investigated piece of celluloid in the history of film.”
Billy Bob Thornton portrays Forrest Sorrels, the head of Dallas’ Secret Service office, who took the unstoppable crime personally.
“The Secret Service had never lost a man, and they lost their man,” says Thornton. “He felt bound and determined to find out what happened immediately while he was going through the worst time in his life. He felt completely responsible.”
Landesman was adamant about shooting key scenes in Dealey Plaza, even painstakingly reconstructing the open-topped stretch limousine in which Kennedy was riding with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The setting carried emotional weight for the actors and crew. Thornton, who recalls being sent home from school at age 8 after the assassination, said he had a surreal experience acting in a scene near the plaza.
“Paul (Giamatti) looks so much like Zapruder that it just all seemed very, very real,” says Thornton. “You really forgot that you were making a movie for a moment.”
Landesman says the film follows Oswald, played by “eerily accurate” Jeremy Strong, and his family. James Badge Dale is brother Robert and Jacki Weaver is mother Marguerite. But Parkland, which will be showcased in both the Toronto and Venice film festivals, does not address any of the conspiracies attached to Oswald’s actions.
“That’s not what this film is about. No one is putting together any kind of puzzle here. They’re just surviving,” says Landesman. “But the film will open up a new avenue of debate. And a healthy one.”