The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Tilde Fredholm.

Director Peter Landesman
Length 93 mins
Certificate 15 / PG-13
Rating ****------
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 1

Photo from the article Whilst history is constantly re-contextualised, re-thought and re-created through cinema, certain events come to gain a privileged status; they become so-called myths of the modern era. The shooting of John F. Kennedy is one such event whose appeal seemingly lies in the uncertainty - or inconclusiveness - of the event itself. One only has to take a brief glance (at Oliver Stone’s JFK [1991], for example) to see that the prospect of an intricate, mysterious plot of assassination is hugely appealing to public taste. But this obsession with governmental ‘cloak and dagger’ antics has recently given way to something else, and with the assassination’s 50th anniversary having just passed, there seems to be a drive to explore what is known rather than unknown.

Peter Landesman’s directorial debut, Parkland, is one example of this. Instead of exploring the mystery of Kennedy’s death, Landesman focuses on the immediacy of it in a series of overlapping accounts, each one portraying someone who was suddenly thrown into a complicated and traumatic turn of events. Beginning with the famous Zapruder footage, the film takes us through the direct aftermath of the assassination, with Kennedy being rushed to Parkland Hospital, Zapruder realising the grave extent of what he has just captured, the trepidation of Kennedy’s security team, the panicked actions of the Dallas secret service and the FBI, and the arrest of Lee Oswald. Here, the impact of the event as it happened and was known to the public comes to the forefront - with Abraham Zapruder and Robert Oswald (Lee’s brother) being the archetypal ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances - but is given depth and variation through the personal traumas of people at various (emotional) distances from the president. In these accounts Kennedy’s death is not an event to be speculated upon but a fact to be dealt with by all members of society. This gives Landesman’s film a promising sense of political sensitivity, implying that history happens to us all, leaving echoes and marks in the most unsuspected places.

Through the eyes of the doctor treating Kennedy, or the brother of Lee Oswald, the film presents a somewhat neglected view: that the public, far from being duped by its government and left in the dark, were actually participating in this remarkable event, an event that could never be concluded even if all facts were laid out. This sense is emphasised by Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography; his trade-mark documentary, neo-realist style extends this feeling of participation to the audience, who no longer has to choose between which accounts to believe.

Yet this seemingly multi-layered and fragmented approach is only ever an illusion. What starts out as a few original perspectives on Kennedy’s death soon changes into the macho histrionics of various security men trying to preserve the dignity of their Great Leader. Stoically, they (along with some other characters) continue to make right and moral decisions despite the extremely stressful circumstances. This not-so-ambiguous emphasis on conviction and morality makes it uncomfortably clear that despite assuming a certain neutrality through its focus on the known, which provides an alternative to conspiracy-theory based representations, the film also introduces its own formula of history and representation which is nonetheless ideologically charged. Its declaration of actuality and insistence on going back to an ‘original’ event does not only engender a sense of ‘you should believe what you see’ that should be questioned; it also openly denies the multifarious meanings and associations the Kennedy assassination has taken on in the collective imagination in the past 50 years. Ironically perhaps, Parkland is rendered mute by its own presumptions of actuality, when it is itself drawing upon and participating in a myth.

This review was published on December 06, 2013.

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