It was a balmy 55 degrees in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 when the world imploded. In Peter Landesman’s electric docudrama Parkland, President Kennedy’s assassination and the 48 hours just after are handled with care and candor, and it puts viewers into parts of the story that have been historically recorded yet previously out-of-sight.
The first half takes place mostly in the emergency room of Parkland Memorial Hospital, where valiant efforts are made by a devoted medical team – played in part by Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, and Marcia Gay Harden – to keep the president alive. The room is awash with blood and teeming with federal agents (one of whom knows instinctully Kennedy won’t make it), and once one doctor stops the vigorous hand-to-chest resuscitation, another takes over, refusing to give up. Meanwhile, Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) wafts in and out of the room, clearly in a state of shock.
When Landesman moves away from the hospital, the focus is on Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), whose film of the motorcade and ensuing assassination ended up becoming one of the most famous home movies ever made. Federal agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) hustles Zapruder and his undeveloped reel around various labs and facilities in order to definitively see with horror what everyone can’t believe they’ve seen.
The family of Lee Harvey Oswald is followed as well. The killer himself is played by Jeremy Strong, who looks more eerily like Oswald than any actor who’s ever played him. Oswald's brother, Robert (James Badge Dale), and mother, Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) are pitted against each other, with the former acknowledging his brother’s culpability while the latter is deviously plotting on how she can cash in.
Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book Four Days in November, Landesman’s screenplay is dense yet pared to the bone, smartly avoiding any superfluous melodrama. And there’s an attention to certain details that seem to have gotten lost in the history books, like the quick reconfiguration of the airplane’s cabin to accommodate Kennedy’s coffin (lest it ride back to Washington in the luggage compartment). Back at Parkland, life goes on. The script pays homage of a kind to the medical team, seen in the days following the assassination back at work like it's any November before or after.