“What a shitty place to die,” utters a beleaguered secret-service agent, played with maximum seriousness by Mark Duplass, upon leaving Parkland Memorial Hospital with the body of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in tow. He’s referring to Texas; undoubtedly, the derogatory opinion is born of the rage he feels over the president’s sudden murder. Even so, there’s an elitism to be found in his words, and Peter Landesman’s Parkland—a meek helping of historical revisionism that zeroes in on the experiences of bit players during and after the JFK assassination—doesn’t do much to dissuade this representation of the South as ideologically and morally inferior. In fact, locals of all professions and demeanors, from doctors (Zac Efron) and nurses (Marcia Gay Harden) to the Dallas FBI field office, are portrayed either as obstacles to the government’s response or as just plain ignorant.
One might chalk all this regional animosity up to the underlying true story—to the panic, guilt and anger filling the hearts of everyone involved with this nasty affair. But Landesman’s simplistic treatment of certain characters signifies his disinterest in the social complexities of the event itself. Look no further for proof than the abrasive turn by Jacki Weaver as Lee Harvey Oswald’s conniving snake of a mother. The one character who survives Parkland’s plodding script and gratuitous hand-held shooting style is Oswald’s conflicted brother, thanks in large part to the talents of actor James Badge Dale. Unlike most of the supporting cast, Dale invokes an eerie sense of restraint in each of his scenes.
Regarding the menacing threads of the JFK assassination, Parkland only hints at cover-ups and conspiracy theories. These salacious digressions pop up at convenient times to promote angst and doubt in the minds of specific characters, only amplifying the film’s remedial vision of history as a series of superficial dramatic moments. In his effort to make a movie more colorful than a history textbook, Landesman has instead offered some textbook hyperbole.