The first round of reviews lean negative, but the debut feature of journalist Peter Landesman does have its champions. Starting with the trades, for example, compare and contrast the ledes in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter: “A painful retelling of the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President Kennedy in which the two least important players seem to be JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald, Parkland dramatizes the immediate impact of that tragedy on the lives of civilians, professionals and others tangentially involved,” writes Peter Debruge. “Comparisons with Bobby can’t be helped, since it took a similar approach to the equally shocking death of Robert F. Kennedy, though that film seems like a masterpiece compared with this inadvertently tacky restaging of events.”
Stephen Farber: “Designed in part to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, the ensemble movie Parkland offers a fresh and affecting slant on that traumatic slice of history. Filled with sharp details that will be eye-opening to most viewers, the film is exceptionally well made, with a fine cast making the most of small but telling roles.”
That leaves Screen Daily, where Tim Grierson grants that the conceit is “an intriguing way to bring fresh intimacy to a well-known event…, but unfortunately writer-director Peter Landesman’s treatment proves both melodramatic and undernourished, although this ensemble piece is grimly compelling throughout.”
Three out of five stars from Xan Brooks: “Landesman sets his stall right away by showing the crucial moment of impact only insofar as it registers on the face of nearby Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the hapless director of the world’s most notorious home movie. That’s because Landesman’s interest is not so much in anguished Jackie Kennedy or loitering Lyndon Johnson as it is in the medics and the bodyguards, the bystanders and bit-players. Parkland gives us a neat Texas spin on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And if the film finally doesn’t tell us anything we did not already know, the approach makes a worn-out old tragedy feel supple and urgent.”
Also in the Guardian, Andrew Pulver has notes on the press conference in Venice, where Landesman argued “that cinema’s preoccupation with Kennedy conspiracy theory had ‘narrowed’ the understanding of the events surrounding the assassination. ‘For 50 years, the speculation and conspiracy has occupied a lot of emotional and narratorial real estate in films,’ he said. ‘That conversation has been had… and there’s very little proof… We chose to tell a story we know to be true. We know these things in the film happened; we know they happened to these people.'”
“The film certainly has a diverse cast,” grants Robbie Collin (one out of five stars in the Telegraph). The actors “were perhaps reassured by the sobriety of its source material, a meticulous 1,600-page account of the murder by Vincent Bugliosi, and the presence of Tom Hanks as a producer. But most of their roles are barely defined: Zac Efron appears as Handsome Doctor, Marcia Gay Harden as Anxious Nurse With Crucifix, Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Service Agent Who Says ‘This Was Not Supposed To Happen’ A Lot, and so on.”
“The only figure in this waxen ensemble who emerges as something resembling a complex, conflicted human being is Oswald’s decent, stoic but tacitly ashamed brother Robert, a man in no doubt as to his sibling’s guilt but attempting to muster up enough unconditional love to understand his mindset,” writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. “In the only performance here that feels porous and palpably damaged, James Badge Dale is given too little to work with to come close to salvaging the whole tawdry affair, but his efforts are appreciated all the same. As his vindictive mother Marguerite, meanwhile, Jacki Weaver goes to the opposite extreme, playing the woman’s horn-rimmed glare and hissing conspiracy theories for high camp value. It’s the cartoonish approach this material arguably calls for, but a distracting one when none of her blander co-stars apparently received the memo.”
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton gives Parkland a D-, but he, too, spares a few good words for James Badge Dale: “For the fifth time in twelve months (following Flight, Iron Man 3, World War Z, and The Lone Ranger), the actor feels like he’s in a different, and much better, movie than the one around him.”
“The best thing about Parkland is having The Hurt Locker Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd on board, bringing a raw immediacy to the camerawork that conveys the chaos of those confusing days,” writes Matt Mueller at Thompson on Hollywood. “But there are some terribly misconceived moments in the film (at one point, Jackie deposits a bit of JFK’s skull into a nurse’s hand) that leave Parkland a soporific exercise in tragic nostalgia.”
Update, 9/2: “Landesman offers us a sophisticated and meticulously detailed historical reconstruction that, as storytelling, remains disappointingly inert,” writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent.
Updates, 9/3: In a dispatch to Filmmaker, Ashley Clark calls Parkland “easily the worst film in this year’s competition, and possibly the most uncalled-for film I’ve seen all year.”
“Parkland isn’t bad, exactly,” offers Jon Frosch in the Atlantic. “But the director hasn’t found a way to make his glimpse at the immediate aftermath of one of the defining traumas of contemporary US history feel urgent. On the contrary, the film ends up feeling unnecessary and undistinguished. Aside from the fact that November will mark the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, why make this movie now?”
Update, 9/12: For Vanity Fair, Julie Miller talks with Landesman about “his research, how he managed to avoid melodrama, and why he cast a little-known actress in the role of Jackie Kennedy.”
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