Parkland Skirts the Conspiracies and Shines Light on JFK Assassination’s Bit Players

Every generation retells history in its own voice. Parkland, the newest film about the JFK Assassination, bears the distinctive mark of a movie made in a so-called post 9-11 world. It is a film whose interest lies not in intrigue or conspiracy, but in the trauma of historic events. The film’s stars are the bit players in Dallas on the morning of November 22, 1963, the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the FBI and secret service agents, and Abraham Zapruder, the businessman who transformed media with his 8 mm film of the moment John F. Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza.

The other aspect of Parkland that makes the film of its time is its filmmaking style. Like films such as United 93, first time director Peter Landesman makes use of handheld cameras which shove their way through the crowds that clog the cramped confines of hospital rooms, police headquarters hallways, FBI offices, and West End office suites. Landesman then takes these tightly-cropped scenes to build a mosaic panorama of the day, cutting back and forth between a handful of storylines.

Those storylines include, as the title suggests, the hospital’s story: the exhausted nurses and doctors who work furiously on JFK only to then find themselves trying to save his alleged killer hours later. There’s also the FBI agents who quickly surmise that Oswald had waltzed into their offices just weeks before he shot Kennedy, which sends the office into panic. We also watch the secret service men make their way through the uneasy day. But the two most intriguing storylines are the ones that are more intimately focused on single characters. Zapruder is played by Paul Giamatti, and he becomes a stand in for national mourning, his camera tethering him to the horror of the tragedy. James Badge Dale portrays an often overlooked character, Robert Oswald, Lee Harvey’s brother, who is struggling to come to grips with what his brother has done. In Breaking Bad fashion, Robert whispers to his brother through a glass booth in the police station: “I don’t know who you are.”

As a historical document, Parkland feels fresh because of its insistence on staying so close to the immediate events that there is no room for the complicated layers that have obscured our view of the assassination over the past 50 years. As a result, it feels like the kind of movie Dallas would like to have made about the assassination, a kind of elegy about processing tragedy and morning loss. Its slow and shaking procession makes the film feel plodding, lifted by sudden shots of dramatic adrenaline. And Dallas only gets one real knock, when the secret service come out of Parkland into the bright sun and see some cowboy-hatted detectives standing under a mesquite tree. “What a shitty place to die,” one of the agents remarks. Otherwise, the “City of Hate” moniker is offset by wholesome, well-meaning bit players like baby-faced Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden’s Nurse Doris, Zapruder and Oswald’s brother.

And yet, without the conspiracies, the media cluster, the strange character of Oswald, and the negligence and confusion, you’re left wondering just how the JFK assassination captivated the nation for so many decades. The steady, mournful tone makes for a film that is one dimensional, and its historical vignettes are more intriguing for their realistic texture than for any dramatic fodder. By stripping away the conspiracy and confusion, it is as if Parkland puts a period on 50 years of voyeuristic infatuation with the blackness and confusion of the JFK assassination. A president died, but it is time to move on.


  • Mark Crane

    The most important clue to the JFK assassination can be found in this Youtube video:

  • Anonymous

    John . F. Kennedy’s assassination happened 50 years ago and a majority of Americans do not believe The Warren Commission Report. After 50 years of denials, free the files.

    “Sunny Day in Dallas” – Gerry Segal

  • tpfleming

    Parkland should be subtitled, “Hanks in Wonderland,” or “What I Omitted From My Summer Movie Project.” No mention of Dr. Malcolm Perry’s insistence that JFK was shot from the front. No scene of doctors’ press conference at Parkland @2 pm that day. No mention of Forrest Sorrel’s confrontation with a fake Secret Service agent upon returning to the scene of the crime. No allusion to any of the fake Secret Service agents in Dealey Plaza. No reference to Clint Hill’s testimony that Jackie was reaching for a piece of JFK’s skull on the trunk. An indisputable indication he was shot from the front. And on and on.

    Tim Fleming
    author, “The President’s Mortician

  • Per Andersson

    Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas is not only the place where President John F. Kennedy died, but also where his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, and where Oswald’s own assassin, Jack Ruby, also died.

    Was it a conspiracy that all these people died in the same place, or was there something about Parkland that caused these deaths?

    Parkland has come under intense fire from government health care regulators, at one point losing its Medicare status, and are on 7 straight years of federal probation for serious patient safety care lapses and billing fraud. Many patients who come to Parkland die for no reason at all.

    You can read about the back story about Parkland and the JFK assassination on the website, “The Parkland Orgy of Death.”

  • Steve

    It’s so sad that Parkland has turned out to be such a troubled institution, corrupted by greed, laziness, and self-interest. With all the problems they have had, it almost seems that it was mistake for the secret service to have rushed the President to Parkland to get treated because the attendings at UTSW were caught off guard.

    Really, a dying U.S. President was only greeted in the trauma room by a rookie resident without any senior faculty? Did Parkland think that this was just another poor patient with no insurance that the attendings didn’t need to respond?

    Only after they found out who it was did the attending faculty at UTSW decide to interrupt their lunches and rush into Trauma Room 1. But by they it was too late, and they made the amateur mistake of overreacting to the situation to compensate for their slow initial response.

    Parkland really is an orgy of death as far as I’m concerned

  • Leslie

    I just watched Parkland and am always bothered when dialogue from a certain era is modernized. Also, I questioned the historical accuracy of the nurses wearing latex gloves in the ER when those gloves were really not manufactured until 1964?? In the movie they showed the secret service practically tripping over Johnson and covering him like a human shield in effort to get him to back to Air Force One for swearing in, but in watching a recent clip for National Geographic, it shows Johnson walking without all the hyped-up security. Someone in the movie said that Oswald’s mother was a “piece a work.” I don’t remember using that expression in the 60’s. If you’re going to make a movie based on factual events, then please don’t be lazy with the detail.