Making the Grades
Every story has more than one side. But when the primary players are as prominent as American President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jackie and accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald it’s easy to push other perspectives aside. Parkland rectifies that.
The film opens just before the fatal shots are fired during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas. Crowds of well-wishers, uniformed officers and news reporters gather on the streets. When the gun goes off, we briefly see the President (Brett Stimely) slumped over in the back of the convertible shielded by his black-suited security detail. Jackie (Kat Steffens), wearing her blood-splattered pink Chanel suit, becomes little more than a background figure in the emergency room after the injured man is wheeled into the trauma unit of Parkland Hospital.
Parkland doesn’t focus on the Kennedys or even the accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong). He gets only one scene that he shares with his brother. This is the story of the people on the peripheral—ordinary citizens thrust into the middle of a historical event.
Tom Welling plays presidential security aide Roy Kellerman, a dedicated serviceman who orchestrates the immediate protection of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and the transportation of the President’s remains to the nation’s capitol. Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden and Colin Hanks play key figures in the emergency room. Harden is the efficient and seasoned trauma nurse who keeps her head during the escalating efforts to save the President’s life. Efron’s character is an exhausted young intern who is the first on the scene and Colin Hanks is the doctor that relieves him. Jackie Earle Haley depicts the priest asked to administer the last rites.
While local, state and federal law enforcement agents quarrel over jurisdiction, CIA agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) and his officers track down clothier Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the man who captured the shooting on his home video camera. Meanwhile Robert Oswald Jr. (James Badge Dale) is at his desk at the Acme Brick Company when he hears his brother has been arrested for the murder. Even as Robert deals with his own shock and the implications he knows will follow his family, he is forced into the fray along with his delusional mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver). She went to her grave believing Lee was a government agent.
The cast is huge but director Peter Landesman manages to keep the story moving—jumping between different storylines and incorporating historical footage and interviews. His choice of camera shots through partially opened window blinds, plate glass windows and other reflective materials is distracting at first (as is some of the hand held camera work). Perhaps he is trying to remind viewers that getting a clear picture of that day’s events is as blurred as the camera work.
The film, based on the book Four Days In November by Vincent Bugliosi, contains gruesome and tense scenes inside an emergency trauma suite where blood-covered medical staff and presidential aides watch the President slip away. In one particularly moving moment, Jackie holds out her blood-soaked glove to a nurse, offering her a piece of John’s skull and brain matter. The scene is not for the squeamish. The next day, those same doctors and nurses are back in the emergency ward treating patients with a myriad of maladies—some serious, some not.
While many who experienced that November day remember where they were when they heard the news. Those portrayed in this movie would have had an indelible mark made in their lives. Seeing their story portrayed on the big screen in this powerful film gives their perspective a place in history as well.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Parkland.
Abraham Zapruder’s film footage includes some brief scenes of his grandchildren playing in the backyard. How does this depiction of a happy family event contrast with the gory footage of the shooting that follows? How were innocent lives shattered by the events of that day? How does the film depict the commitment the President’s personal security detail feels for their Commander-in-Chief?
How does the focus of the film change when JFK and Jackie become secondary characters instead of the main focus? How does the director ensure that they stay in the background of the story?
How are Robert Oswald and his family impacted by his brother’s alleged act? How is Robert’s strength of character shown? How is that strength depicted at his brother’s funeral?
How do certain characters try to cover up or deflect attention aimed at them? Do you agree with their less than scrupulous methods of avoiding blame? If in fact Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President, did agents have the information they needed to sideline the assassination?
Learn more about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
This movie is based on the book, Four Days In November: The Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi.