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Film review: Parkland

'Billy Bob Thornton, as secret service agent Forrest Sorrells, seems to have been asked to just look stern and march up and down corridors a lot'

Today marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F Kennedy. In that time so much has been written and said about this seismic moment in history that you’d think it impossible for anyone to say much more. In recent weeks, though, in anticipation of the anniversary, writers, commentators and historians have had a good go at squeezing a little extra out of the JFK story.

Writer-director Peter Landesman has done his bit with Parkland (15), a serious – and seriously dull – film documenting that fateful day in Dallas from the perspectives of a number of key protagonists. Unfortunately, Landesman has tried to squeeze far too much into his film’s 90-minute running time, meaning there is no room to develop and unpick the characters and their stories in any meaningful way. The man who filmed the JFK assassination, Abraham Zapruder (played by Paul Giamatti), is given little to do except stand around looking sad, while Billy Bob Thornton, as secret service operative Forrest Sorrells, seems to have been asked to just look stern and march up and down corridors a lot.

Elsewhere, Lee Harvey Oswald appears briefly and at least the focus on his confused, heartbroken brother, played by James Badge Dale, piques the interest in the final third of the film. Unfortunately, this positive is undercut by the presentation of the Oswald’s conspiracy-theory spouting mother, played by the usually excellent Jacki Weaver, as an absurd caricature.

With the death of JFK coming early in the film, and not exactly as a surprise, Parkland cries out for some dramatic tension. The Zapruder strand is utterly devoid of suspense because, despite the scowling Billy Bob’s fear that the tape will be destroyed as it is being developed, we know the film comes out OK. Other attempts to whip up a bit of drama fare even worse. Landesman expects us to be gripped, for example, by a scene in which the president’s coffin is hastily loaded on to Air Force One.

Parkland takes it name from the hospital where both JFK and Oswald were taken after they were shot. In a series of bloody scenes the medical staff (with a young doctor played by Zac Efron) attempt – with contrasting degrees of enthusiasm – to revive the two patients.

When dealing with the stricken president, Efron carries out a protracted, futile bout of CPR. It’s a scene that serves as a grim metaphor for the film as a whole. I fear no amount of chest-pumping would spark life into this uninspired historical re-enactment. Whether the old cliché is true that everyone who was around in the 1960s remembers where they were when JFK was shot, I’m not sure. But what I am certain about, though, is that in 50 years time not many people will remember that they watched Parkland.

Two stars