Parkland – A Shot Heard Around The World

On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, Parkland shines a light on the ordinary people who witnessed the tragedy up close. 

There is an entire generation that knows exactly where they were and what they were doing on the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, apparently by a single gunman, while visiting Dallas, Texas. But ever since, the actual events of 22 November, 1963, have become shrouded in intrigue. Was Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone, or did he have help? Was it the CIA? The FBI? The KGB? The Mafia?

While the conspiracy business continues to boom, Parkland, the first film by former investigative journalist Peter Landesman, takes us back to experience, first-hand, those chilling 24 hours that shocked the world. What he reveals is not a mystery but the very human reality of that time for the people who found themselves caught up in the eye of the storm. “There’s really not a scene in this movie that anyone’s ever seen before,” says Landesman. “We’ve been exposed again and again to the speculation and the mythology, but we’ve never seen what it was like on the ground, when it was happening.”

Produced by Tom Hanks and based on Vincent Bugliosi’s Four Days In November: The Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy, Landesman’s film features a stellar cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Service agent Forrest V. Sorrels, Marcia Gay Harden as emergency room nurse Doris Nelson and Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, the immigrant businessman whose Super-8 camera accidentally caught the assassination on just 26.6 vital seconds of film.

For Thornton, the film was a chance to shine a light on some of the many characters whose lives were changed that day. “It was Sorrels’ detail and his guy died,” he says. “The real Sorrel was a very mysterious character. I think he felt so devastated by what happened that he kind of dropped out of sight and never really resurfaced.”

The title of the film refers to the Dallas hospital where the President was first taken. Contrary to popular belief, Kennedy still had a heartbeat when he was admitted, and the shellshocked staff, including nurse Nelson and doctors Jim

Carrico (played by Zac Efron) and Malcolm Perry (Colin Hanks), did what they could to save him. Of all the figures in the film, however, few are more fascinating than Zapruder, whose film became a defining moment of the 20th century.

“It was supposed to be a wonderful celebratory thing seeing the President that day,” remarks Giamatti. “He realises that this will define his life. It’s a shattering thing for him.”

Like Landesman, the cast are aware that portraying such a seismic event is not without risks, especially when it supports the official version of events in a more cynical time. “I admire Peter for tackling something this daunting,” says Thornton. “I wanted to be part of it because I think it will be a movie that will live on in history.”

Parkland is released in UK cinemas on 22 November.

Words by Chris Benedict