Parkland Is More Of A Historical Mood Piece Than A Movie

C+
Grade: B-

Parkland is actually something of an anti-movie. It does not offer a protagonist or a point of view. It does not contain an antagonist for us to root against, or even any doubt or drama about what may, or may not, happen to any particular character. Granted, it is certainly not the first movie for which we know the ending, but even whereas many other similar films would fictionalize the events to a certain degree, Parkland resists this completely. It offers no conspiracy theories; no details, in fact, gory or otherwise, that we might not know from elsewhere. It simply proceeds out of sheer inertia, Oswald’s shots ringing out in the first minutes of the film, and the rest of it refusing absolutely to change its mood or direction, as everyone around the events struggles to make sense of what has happened.

The shock that was a felt by Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 is consistently felt throughout the whole movie. If there is any drama here, it is in the inability of the people surrounding the events to make any sort of sense of the tragedy. We have doctors in the titular Parkland Hospital (Zac Efron in a perfectly forgettable role alongside Marcia Gay Harden), doing their absolute best to save John F. Kennedy when there is obviously nothing they can do. Jackie Kennedy, played by Kat Steffens, completely shellshocked about the sudden blow. Secret Service (Billy Bob Thornton) and FBI (Ron Livingston) recovering from what is perceived as their failure. Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale) trying to come to terms with what his brother had done. Perhaps most intriguingly, Abraham Zapruder, played by the always interesting Paul Giamatti, dealing with having just recorded the death of one of the most important men in the Western world.

None of this has the appearance of being even remotely dressed up or dramatized. The down-side to that effect is, of course, the fact that the movie is not even slightly dramatic. There is no suspense at all, just a very consistent and unwavering mood of shock, chaos, and tension. The film is, in fact, almost entirely one-note. If the subject matter where different, the movie might almost look like a very dark comedy, with some of the very true-seeming moments of absurdity. A group of secret service men struggling to fit a coffin through the door of a plane might evoke laughter in a different context, or if it were simply executed less sensitively. This is, however, not a problem here.

In fact, it should be noted that even the details of the killing itself are tastefully cut around. There are no gratuitous shots of the moment the president’s head was hit by a bullet. Even the famous Zapruder film is not shown in the film, instead only offering glimpses of reflections of various shots. The film certainly offers no gleeful recreation of the gritty details as a less sensitive filmmaker may wish to do. Director Peter Landesman certainly deserves praise for that achievement.

Again, this is not quite a film in a traditional sense. There is no attempt at all to create engaging characters or traditional plot. It is simply a reflection of the mood and atmosphere of an important event. In that respect, it does a fine job.

Casting Friday: Giamatti Rhino, Olsen Avengers

Each Friday, I will summarize the important casting news or rumors from the preceding week, giving you a preview of who’ll be playing who in the future!

Giamatti Rhino

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is yet to come out (it is scheduled for May 2nd, 2014), actor Paul Giamatti, who plays the villain Rhino in the film, already confirmed his appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man 3. The film is currently slated to be released on June 10th, 2016. Whatever else could be said about this news, it is definitely a spoiler for the second film.

In the same interview, Giamatti said he does not know whether he will be appearing in the 4th film of the franchise, also already greenlit. He did not reveal anything further about the rumors of a Sinister Six team-up in upcoming films.

Olsen Avengers

I’ve previously talked about the rumor of Olsen playing Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but there has been no confirmation of it until now. Granted, the quote does not specifically mention the role, but Samuel L. Jackson, who of course is playing Nick Fury in the film, confirmed that she is involved:

“I don’t think we begin shooting before March of next year. I know we’re shooting in London, that James Spader is Ultron and going to be the bad guy, and that we added Ms. [Elizabeth] Olsen, but I don’t know what she’s doing, if she’s on the inside or the outside. I haven’t seen a script.”

Not many more casting news this week. I, for one, am waiting for news on who’s playing Constantine in the upcoming tv pilot!

Ides of March

Director George Clooney’s latest foray into political cinema in Ides of March actually plays as if it was written by a speech writer. The language is concise, the message is clear. It isn’t necessarily the power that corrupts, but the compromises one has to make to put themselves in that position of power. George Clooney’s character is Mike Morris, a state Governor who is in the running to win the presidential primary for the Democrats’ candidacy. His compromise is embodied by Ryan Gosling, who plays Stephen Meyers, Morris’ deputy campaign manager. As the Ohio state primary unfolds, Stephen finds himself making a mistake in meeting, even once, with the manager of the opposing campaign. This acts as a catalyst for a series of events that end up wrecking the ideals of both men – the Governor, and Stephen, as both have to compromise to keep their head above water.

All of this is unfortunately dramatized, and thickened. A single mistake in the world of politics, apparently, means death. Which, may be true in cases – a single embarrassment can mean the death of one’s career in that world, and even so… The character’s reactions seem drastic.

The characters themselves often speak to one another as if they were embroiled in a public debate. It is difficult to decide whether this is a conscious choice on the part of the writers of the film (of which there are three). True, the characters are themselves practiced speech writers, they make their living that way. Perhaps the language would seep into their daily lives.

Yet, if this is a rhetorical strategy it is a flawed one. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Stephen’s boss, is ultimately given very little to do here, which is surprising. George Clooney is an actor himself, and it was difficult to understand why he gave this role to such a masterful actor. It isn’t that the part is small, it’s that it isn’t interesting, apart for a few fiery lines.

Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of Tom Duffy, the manager of the opposing campaign, was at least obviously unlikable enough to not suffer from this characterization. He is cynical and jaded, having clearly spent too much time on the campaign trail.

George Clooney’s Morris is almost always on, and therefore comes off almost as perfect as his public image makes him out to be. When Morris is making a speech, one is instantly inclined to believe him. Even as dirty secrets come out, one can’t help but believe he was simply being corrupted by the difficult choices he is forced to make, and that he really is the idealist he swears to be. Only, his ideals are now tied to people that oppose it at all costs.

Finally, we return to Stephen. Stephen has involved himself in a love affair with an intern, played by Evan Rachel Wood, but really is a very nice guy. He believes in his candidate. Only, when his candidate treats him, or the lovely intern, unfairly, he is out for blood. He drops very quickly the spiel about what is best for the country. It becomes obvious that what Stephen is after, is his piece of the pie. The difference between his appearance and demeanor in the opening shot, and the final, is stark. Obvious, even.

2011 is definitely going down as Ryan Gosling’s year – Crazy, Stupid, Love., Drive, and The Ides of March make him the face of the year. Which is well-deserved. He is a believable, likable, and clearly talented.

Ultimately, the message about the realities of the political world contributes nothing we didn’t already know. Which isn’t a bad thing, really. It’s just that when a film concentrates on a message rather than art, its message needs to be profound, rather than merely letting us know that the people we vote for may not be telling us the complete truth about their beliefs. Why is why the movie fails to even be topical during primary season – its message is so broad, it could apply to anything. Which almost feels like a compromise on the film’s part.