‘Parkland’ adds little to JFK assassination story

The only interesting thing about “Parkland” is that it exists. And it exists because of our collective unwillingness to let go of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, the day a young prince died and a still-unresolved mystery began.

Culled from Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November,” the movie presents narrow-gauge vignettes, acted out by supporting players in Dallas during the tragedy.

Supporting players, but not peripheral. The most gripping section of the film unfolds at Parkland Hospital, where an unsuspecting overtime ER crew deals with the arrival of a U.S. president with a severe head wound.

Marcia Gay Harden contributes her granite professionalism as the nurse on duty, although here (as in other episodes) the cast tends toward the TV-guest-star vein, with Zac Efron and Colin Hanks also pulling duty. (Hanks’ dad, Tom, produced the film.)

There’s a very dull storyline about Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale), enlivened only by the battiness of Oswald’s mother (Jacki Weaver, in her “Animal Kingdom” monster mode).

The movie takes no position on Oswald’s guilt, or any conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination, because it keeps its gaze at ground level.

The director, longtime investigative reporter Peter Landesman, seeks to show things “as they happened,” and forgo commentary. So take that, Oliver Stone.

An entire feature could be made from the story of Abraham Zapruder, whose name became a household word after he clocked the presidential motorcade with his 8 mm. camera. In “Parkland,” Zapruder’s story repeats a single note — anguish — as it tracks the sudden attention he gets from a Secret Service agent (Billy Bob Thornton, a good turn) and a Life magazine representative.

As Zapruder, Paul Giamatti does his expected fine work, but he’s got nowhere to go either. Everybody keeps watching the Zapruder film, and reacting in horror, and not finding an answer.

The “Parkland” audience may feel the same way. The whole movie is like adding more frames in a loop of film that keeps running over and over, as though by sifting through these remnants we’d settle something.

When Woody Allen’s character in “Annie Hall” realized his obsession with the JFK case was just a way of avoiding intimacy with his wife, it was a clever passing joke; now it looks like an accurate diagnosis of the national sickness, our inability to live with the idea that we might never know what happened — or that the likeliest explanation is insufficiently grand to fit such a history-altering event.

“Parkland” is a particularly feeble drop in the bucket.

“Parkland” (2 stars)

A ground-level look at some supporting characters in the drama that unfolded around the assassination of President Kennedy: the ER staff at Parkland hospital; Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother; and the man who filmed the killing, Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti). The movie keeps its focus narrowed, and in so doing adds very little to the ongoing obsession with what really happened in those days.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, language.

Showing: Pacific Place, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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