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JF(just o)K – ★★

In case you didn’t know November 22nd 2013 marks half a century since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Earlier this year we celebrated 50 years since the 35th U.S. president came to Ireland so you’re forgiven if you’re already suffering from a little JFK fatigue.

Parkland is journalist turned writer/director Peter Landesman’s first feature and tries to show us the events of that day from the perspectives of the ordinary people who were just doing their jobs and got caught up in the mire of that day. While it’s mostly due to the subject matter, it feels quite like the 2006 Emilio Estevez picture Bobby, however here we’re dealing with all real-life figures. Amongst those featured in a wide ranging ensemble film are Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother, FBI agents, the doctors and nurses in the Parkland hospital where Kennedy and later Oswald were both taken and of course Abraham Zapruder the clothing company man who was harmlessly filming the motorcade from that grassy knoll when Kennedy was shot.

Man with a movie camera

Man with a movie camera

The biggest problem that could be thrown at the film is that by featuring such a big cast you really struggle to connect with any one character here. You spend a few moments trying to get a handle on what the doctor pumping away to try and revive the president must have been going through and then you’re thrown over to the FBI office where agents are frantically trying to work out what’s happened.

The cast is a real mixed bunch headed up by a few big Hollywood A-listers like Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Jacki Weaver. It’s then bulked out by an abundance of competent b-listers like Colin Hanks, James Badge Dale, Jackie Earle Haley, Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass and Ron Livingston. Rounding things out are a few TV stars like Billy from “Ally McBeal” and Agent Aaron Pierce from “24”. Badge Dale is probably the best of the bunch as Oswald’s brother while Weaver goes for broke as his mother but fails as she plays it as a deranged soap-opera star. You’ll also get to see one of the worst performances seen on screen this year in the shape of Zac Efron as Dr. Carico. Take a drink anytime his reading of a well-meaning serious line draws a laugh or a groan from the crowd – “We have a heartbeat”, “We better get a priest in here” were my two favourites.

The limp piano/string score and Landesman’s directing both try to manipulate you into feeling something from the film but fail. There are a few strong scenes, but really the script should just have honed in on one of the character sets from the Oswald family, Zapruder company, Parkland hospital or secret service detail. Things aren’t helped by fairly cheap feeling, TV style production design which doesn’t really do very well at transporting you back to the time and place desired.

The credits start to drop at the 85 minute mark by which point you’re left a little miffed at how little you’ll feel or remember from a film which is about one of the 20th century’s most traumatic and memorable events.

Opening across Ireland on November 22nd 2013

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.