On 2.6 I expressed disappointment that Peter Landesman‘s Parkland, a currently-shooting drama about the killing of President John F. Kennedy on 11.22.63, will not strictly focus on the activities at Dallas’s Parkland hospital (which the title obviousiy implies) but will involve various locales and perspectives. But then I was sent a draft of Landesman’s script. I finished it last night, and I have to say it’s a sturdy, convincing, well-structured effort.
There’s no telling how the film itself will turn out. There are probably 50 ways Landesman can screw things up and he’s a genius if he can think of 35 of them, but I know authentic-sounding dialogue and good screenwriting architecture and when scenes run just the right length, and there’s no question that on paper at least Parkland is a taut, gripping recreation of a dark and horrific day. It smells like reality.
Dark and Horrific Day is a more truthful title than Parkland as Landesman’s script follows four story lines with four separate clusters of characters in a host of Dallas locations. (The film has been lensing in Austin but will go to Dallas for some pickups, or so I’ve read.)
Roughly half of the script deals with the Parkland gang including Dr. Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), Dr. Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks), Dr. Jerry Gustaffson and Nurse Doris Mae Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden), who attended to the mortally wounded JFK as well as his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, on 11.24. Another Parkland character is Father Huber (Jackie Earl Haley), who administered last rights to the President.
The other half is split between three groups. About 25% or 30% focuses on Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), the guy who took the famous 8mm color footage of JFK’s murder, and all the people who dealt with him that day — a couple of film processing guys, Dallas Morning News editor Harry McCormick, FBI agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), Life editor Richard Stolley. Maybe 15% deals with Lee Oswald (Jeremy Strong), his older brother Robert (James Badge Dale) and their loony-tune mother, Marguerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver). And 5% or 10% focuses on two FBI agents — Gordon Shanklin and James Hosty (Ron Livingston) — who destroyed letters and other paper documents concerning Oswald and his wife Marina.
Largely based on Vincent Bugliosi‘s “Reclaiming History,” Parkland is definitely an “Oswald acted alone” movie.
If you agree with Howard Hawks‘ definition of a good film containing “three great scenes and no bad ones,” then Parkland will be a good film because it has several very…well, perhaps not necessarily “great” but very strong scenes.
A strong scene is a back-and-forth that makes you sit up in your seat and go “wow, that was something” or “whoa, intense stuff.” It’s a moment that you know you’ll remember. There are at least three such scenes at Parkland hospital (Carrico and Perry’s attempts to save Kennedy’s life inside trauma room #1, angry FBI and Secret Service guys removing JFK’s casket in defiance of Dallas police officials wanting to perform an autopsy, Oswald being wheeled into Parkland and reactions of staffers), at least two or three scenes with Zapruder, two exchanges at Dallas police headquarters involving Robert Oswald (one with Lee, another with a police officer), a scene acquainting us with Marguerite Oswald’s dementia, a making-room-for-the-casket scene on Air Force One, and a burial-of-Oswald scene at the very end. What is that, ten?
Some of the descriptions of JFK’s wounds and certain procedures followed in the trauma room indicate that Parkland will be fairly bloody and graphic here and there. Not for the squeamish unless, of course, editing intercedes.
Parkland will come out sometime around the 50th anniversary of JFK’s murder.