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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Janna Does TIFF: Parkland

Practically every American citizen alive in 1963 can instantly give you an answer to the question, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” It’s a moment that spawned endless media coverage, reformed government security measures, and set eyes around the world firmly on the First Family. But in Parkland, audiences are asked to look elsewhere – to see, instead, the ordinary people immediately touched by the tragedy.

Parkland, starring Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, James Badge Dale, Billy Bob Thornton and a whole host of others, is the story of the assassination of President John F Kennedy and the three days that followed. It’s a film told from multiple perspectives, showing the untold stories of those surrounding the tragic event.

Credit The American Film Company

Credit The American Film Company

The film is heavy, constantly digging in for the emotional moments in an attempt to tell a story that, frankly, most viewers already know. Though the film offers us perspectives and characters not often depicted, on the whole it reads like a film dramatized for the History channel – it isn’t groundbreaking. It isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. While it briefly touches upon some of the corruption allegations and conspiracy theories that have arisen since that day, none are pushed far enough for the film to show anything revolutionary or even, really, make a statement. What saves the film from being overwrought, unnecessary and emotionally manipulative is the acting.

Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver, and James Badge Dale stand out from the solid cast, with real performances that offer emotional truth. Giamatti plays Abraham Zapruder, the journalist who accidentally filmed the assassination, and his guilt and internal conflict over possessing that footage is powerful. Jacki Weaver, as Oswald’s mother Marguerite, takes a role that could have been cartoonish and irritating and makes it deeply sad – she shows the delusions and cracks in a grieving woman’s façade. But it’s James Badge Dale who leads the pack with his performance as Robert Oswald, Lee’s brother. His confusion and devastation over his brother’s actions is gut-wrenching, and he commands every scene he’s in. He has the difficult job of making audiences sympathetic to the Oswald family, and from his first moments of learning about his brother’s involvement in the assassination, he has the viewer hooked immediately.

Credit The American Film Company

Credit The American Film Company

One of the notable choices director Peter Landesman has made was to remove the focus from JFK himself (and, to a lesser degree, Jackie). We never see the face of the actor playing JFK – we see his wrist, his hair, his body, but never more than that. Jackie, too, is more often shown onscreen from the back or the side, showing her trademark pink suit and hairdo rather than the face of the actress playing her. In this way, the Kennedys feel represented, rather than depicted, and it helps the story easily settle on the real protagonists: the doctors, journalists, secret servicemen, and relatives who were all tied into the assassination. It’s an interesting and bold choice, and, ultimately, an effective one.

Another element that impressed me was the film’s way of handling the assassination itself. Parkland mixes archival and scripted footage expertly during the opening scenes of the story, up until JFK’s arrival at the hospital, and never does it feel jarring or disruptive. It serves the narrative successfully. And the film is tight at ninety-three minutes, leaving no room for boredom or a dragging story. It would have been nice, though, for Landesman to have let the film to breathe a little more. We meet so many characters in such a short space of time, and many are merely faces with no real notable qualities to them – and, unfortunately, they all become forgettable entities for the viewer by the end. Lengthening the film a little to allow for some development for these characters (the secret service agents in particular) and permitting film to linger, sometimes, on a quieter moment could only have helped the story.

Is the film a revelation? No. But the great performances from the cast and some interesting directorial choices make Parkland worth a watch.

RATING: B-

Parkland received mixed reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and has just opened in theatres all across North America.  Check out the film’s trailer here.

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