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'Parkland': Film About JFK's Slaying Turns Logistics Into Art Form

Courtesy Exclusive Releasing
In “Parkland,” Dale plays Oswald’s brother Robert, who tries to bury his brother with dignity after all that has happened.

“Parkland,” Peter Landesman’s new film about the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, starts off like the greatest episode of “ER” and ends like a Samuel Beckett play. It’s both a thriller that tells a familiar chapter of history in an incredibly original way and a tragedy of immensely personal dimensions.

“I’m obsessed by procedures. And especially when there’s no procedure,” Landesman, a former reporter for The New York Times, told CQ Roll Call.

And when the president of the United States is wheeled into your emergency room with a gunshot wound to the head, procedure goes out the window. “When chaos and fear reign, any plans that did exist, any structure that did exist, all that goes away,” Landesman added.

“Someone please tell me what’s next,” Dr. Malcolm Perry, played by Colin Hanks, says in the film after the president is declared dead. For Perry, who worked to save Kennedy with another physician, Jim Carrico, played by Zac Efron, there was no clear answer. That comes through loud and clear in the movie, as the Secret Service tries to determine its next move and the Dallas coroner gets into a jurisdictional fight with White House staff over custody of Kennedy’s body.

That focus on logistics makes “Parkland” — named after Parkland Memorial Hospital where Kennedy was rushed after being shot on Nov. 22, 1963 — hum along at a breakneck pace.

It follows the first responders, Secret Service agents, FBI agents, journalists, witnesses and even the family of Lee Harvey Oswald on that day and the days that followed. It’s based on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2008 book, “Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”

Navigating the Record

The director was turned on to Bugliosi’s work by Tom Hanks, for whom Landesman had written a screenplay on Watergate. After he read the book, his reporter instincts took over, sending him on a three-year odyssey during which he followed up with as many of the principals as were still alive, such as FBI Special Agent James Hosty, who is played in the movie by Ron Livingston.

Hosty, part of the FBI’s Dallas field office, had kept tabs on Oswald but regarded him as a crackpot. When his superiors find out he might have been the last law enforcement officer in contact with Oswald before Kennedy is shot, they are livid, and he is ordered to destroy the case file detailing his tracking of Oswald, an event depicted in the movie and about which Hosty testified to Congress years later.

Hosty eventually transferred to the Kansas City, Mo., field office. He died there in 2011, but not before Landesman spoke to him as part of his research.

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