Movie Reviews - 2013 postsMonday December 02, 2013
Movie Review: Oldboy (2013)
Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” (2003), starring Choi Min-sik and Kang Hye-jeong, is the one of the greatest revenge movies ever made. Spike Lee’s “Oldboy,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, is not.
The new “Oldboy” is both more grounded and less believable. It’s less dreamlike, less cartoonish, less comic, and packs less of an emotional wallop. It give us more of Joe Doucett (Brolin) acting like a drunk asshole, more of Joe imprisoned in the room, and a greater subterfuge about the love interest (Olsen), but it’s not as good, not as clever, and obviously not as original. It corrects some of the mistakes of the Korean version but makes its own. It shortens the length of the movie by 16 minutes but hardly to its advantage. As the climax looms, we think, “Already?”
Admittedly remaking a classic is a tough gig.
Joe Doucett is an ad executive and alcoholic, who, as the movie begins, blows a deal by coming onto his client’s wife. Afterwards, he gets massively drunk, roams Chinatown, buys a cheap Buddha gift for his 3-year-old daughter, throws up on himself, and knocks on the door of the bar of his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli). Then a beautiful woman with an umbrella appears, beckons him, and Joe disappears. All that’s left behind is the Buddha.
He wakes in a hotel room with the shower running. He assumes it’s the umbrella woman but nobody’s there. His clothes are gone, there’s no phone, no room service. At first he thinks he’s simply locked in; then, as food and vodka appear, he realizes he’s being kept prisoner in the room. We realize, meanwhile, that the Korean version didn’t give us this. It went right to being imprisoned for two months, as its main character, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), veers between rage and catatonia. Both responses come off as comic. That’s part of the tension in watching: not laughing at this man in his horrible predicament. Spike Lee doesn’t give us this. So there’s less tension.
What does Joe do in his imprisoned hotel room? He drinks, he cries, he jacks off. After this last, gas fills the room, and some time later he finds out via the TV news that his ex-wife has been raped and murdered and the irrefutable evidence points to ... him. He’s now a wanted fugitive.
After a few years he gets serious. He stops drinking, gets in shape, readies himself for revenge. He’s tunneling his way out, a la Andy Dusfrene, but at the last moment gas fills the room again. Except when he awakes, he’s out, he’s free. Where? Korean version: on a rooftop. U.S. version: in a coffin in the middle of a field. OK. And there’s the woman with the umbrella again. OK. It’s amazing how she hasn’t aged. Or maybe this is a different woman.
It’s amazing how he hasn’t aged. Joe actually looks better now than when he went in. He also seems saner. Every one of these points is at odds with the Korean version; every one seems wrong.
He follows the umbrella girl until ... well, now it’s a homeless man, standing in line for free health care, and the volunteer nurse on staff is Marie Sebastian (Olsen), who gets caught up in Joe’s life and story. As does Chucky. As does Adrian (Sharlto Copley of “District 9”), the man who imprisoned him, who sets him on a 48-hour mission to find out the answer to these two questions: who is he and why did he imprison Joe for 20 years? If he can answer these, his daughter, now 23, and a cellist somewhere, will live, he’ll be given evidence to clear his name, he’ll be given, what is it, $20 million in diamonds? Plus he’ll get to watch Adrian put a bullet through his own head. Nice deal. He takes it.
The larger prison
So how else does the U.S. version differ from the Korean version? Well, the owner of the private jail, Park there and Chaney here (Samuel L. Jackson), isn’t tortured by teeth extraction; instead, Joe cuts out bits of his neck and literally pours salt in the wounds. There’s less back-and-forth with him, too. Park and his men keep turning up, Chaney less so.
The backstory of the villain (Adrian/Lee Woo-jin) is also different. Korean version: Lee had sex with his sister at school, Ou Dae-su saw it, told his friend, who told others, and on and on until there was scandal and suicide. So Ou Dae-su, a despicable man, suffers for a crime he didn’t commit. U.S. version: Joe witnesses sex, yes, but between the sister and an older man, who turned out to be the father. Joe didn’t know that then, but he still spread the story, and the girl was still hounded, and eventually the entire family, happily engaging in incest with the father, was forced to flee to Luxemburg, where Daddy finally lost it and killed them all. Adrian was only wounded.
Now before I go on to other changes, let me say, emphatically, to anyone who hasn’t seen the Korean version: Go watch it. Now. It’s streaming on Netflix. If you keep reading this, you will discover one of the great twist endings in movie history. It will be like knowing what Rosebud was. So please, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, leave.
Are we good? Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Another difference is the way the new “Oldboy” presents what happened to Joe/Ou’s 3-year-old daughter. Korea: He gets a slip of paper saying she was adopted by a couple in .... was it Switzerland? She’s out of the picture. In the U.S. version, we see her on television over and over again. She keeps showing up on one of those crappy “unsolved crime” shows, which Joe keeps watching while imprisoned. She grows to be a beautiful 23-year-old cellist. Why this change? One: American children don’t get adopted abroad. Two: the greater subterfuge—and it is subterfuge—is there less to fool Joe than to fool us.
Except ... One of the things I liked about the Korean version is that I suspected briefly who Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) was. “He should be careful,” I said to Patricia. “That girl is his daughter’s age. She could be his daughter.” I’m careful this way. I’m good with math. But the thought went away. It flashed in my head, and the story picked up, and I stopped thinking about it.
This has happened to me a couple of times watching movies: flashing on the answer, losing it in the story, and then—boom—there it is. When I first saw “The Crying Game,” I thought maybe the dude was a lady; then it went away; then there it was. With Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” I felt a vibe of assassination. I don’t know why. But then it went away. Then boom. It’s almost a kind of subconscious foreshadowing. It’s one of those mysteries of movies, and if you have it you don’t want to mess with it—it’s actually more effective, more resonant, than completely fooling your audience—but in the new “Oldboy” they mess with it. Since the subterfuge is greater, I can’t imagine anyone new to the story engaging in this kind of subconscious foreshadowing.
In both versions, by the way, the villain tells the hero he asked the wrong question: Not why did I imprison you but why did I let you go? But here’s a better question: Why did I let you go after 15/20 years? The length of time, it turns out, is the whole point.
Park’s “Oldboy” is a great revenge fantasy because the revenge isn’t extracted by the man who was imprisoned but by the man who imprisoned him. And the 15 years isn’t the revenge, it simply sets up the revenge. The 15 years is prelude. Enough time has to pass to allow the revenge to happen: to make Ou guilty of the crime that sent Lee Woo-jin’s sister to her death: incest. That’s brilliant. Equally brilliant, equally painful, is Ou’s reaction. He grovels and acts the dog. He literally cuts out his own tongue to please the man who imprisoned him so he won’t tell the daughter what really happened. The dream has become a nightmare; and unlike Ou’s imprisonment, it won’t ever end.
The U.S. version screws this up, too. Josh Brolin is a good actor but he can’t grovel. And Joe certainly doesn’t cut out his own tongue. Instead, even as Adrian kills himself, Joe takes the diamonds, gives most to Marie along with a carefully worded farewell note, and the rest goes to Chaney so he’ll lock up Joe for the rest of his life. Joe is now his own imprisoner. And he smiles at the camera.
It’s not a bad end. It recalls long-held prisoners who want the comfort of the jail cell again. But it doesn’t resonate the way the Korean version resonates.
I think the biggest mistake in Spike’s version was losing the dream/nightmare quality of the Korean film, the horror/comic fable of it all. This version takes itself a little too seriously. Which I guess is what you do when you remake a classic. But it doesn’t serve the final product.
Or maybe it does. We still have the original version, after all, and the U.S. version, despite the talent involved, is no competition. It will fade, disappear from view, leaving only the Korean classic. That’s the one people should see anyway.
Movie Review: The Internship (2013)
Here’s a conversation between Patricia and I during the last five minutes of “The Internship,” starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson:
Me: Why is everyone else cheering? They just lost. They won’t get jobs now.
Patricia: And what’s the stripper doing there?
That pretty much sums up the movie. The few choice jobs in the digital age are gone ... and what’s the stripper doing there?
Has there been a worse year for comedies? Hollywood keeps trying to make us laugh from situations that cause massive social anxiety: identity theft, college admission, Burt Wonderstone. In “The Internship,” it’s obsolescence in the digital age. Wucka wucka.
I get it. Our heroes dream and persevere. They overcome and work as a team and win. But the anxiety is too real while the victory too fake. The filmmakers (director Shawn Levy; screenwriters Jared Stern and Vince Vaughn) have taken the American nightmare, shoved it through the Hollywood dream factory, and this is what came out the other end.
Selling watches in 2012
Billy McMahon (Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Wilson) are mid-40s watch salesmen who don’t know what time it is. They don’t even know their company has folded. It takes a former customer to tell them that.
Immediate thought. Sales? That’s a transferable skill. They should do well. Hell, if they can sell watches in 2012, they can sell anything.
Except for the movie to work, they can’t get jobs; and because they can’t get jobs, they’re forced to roll the dice as interns at Google, where they join a team of misfits and compete, for a job, against a bunch of other teams, including a team led by a true douchebag, Graham Hautrey (Max Minghella), who has it in for our team of sad-sack misfits. And while our team starts poorly, eventually, in the Hollywood tradition of misfit teams, they come together and begin to win and have a chance. Ah, but team leader Billy lets them down and gives up and walks away. But then he’s called back! At the last second! And they finally win! And there’s the stripper!
So it’s like “Monsters University” but more cartoony. And with a stripper.
Who are these other misfits? There’s the ostensible leader, Lyle (Josh Brener), a nerd who uses hip-hop slang and has the hots for the part-time Google dance instructor Marielena (Jessica Szohr); Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), who can’t bother to look up from his smartphone; Neha (Tia Sircar), a supercute girl who likes nerdy things (cosplay, etc.) but somehow still can’t get a date; and Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), the home-schooled son of a Tiger Mother, who pulls at his eyebrow when he feels like he’s done something bad.
I liked Yo-Yo. He felt new.
How do they come together as a team? Do I have to say? Actually, see if you can pick out the most absurd element on their road to victory.
They go partying. Yep. They wind up in a Chinatown restaurant, where Billy orders their meal in Mandarin, and then at a high-end strip club, where they do shots, and get lap dances, and where Neha takes a shower with her clothes on and Lyle hooks up with Marielena, who, oops (she’s so embarrassed!), is a high-end stripper and lap dancer as well as being the part-time Google dance instructor. So if Google paid her more, would she not have to strip? No one raises that point. But of course she’s interested in Lyle! What high-end lap-dancer doesn’t want a serious relationship with Dilton Doiley? Then there’s a fight (over Marielena), and afterwards, as dawn breaks beautifully over the Golden Gate Bridge, our team, recounting its crazy night, comes up with an app that wins the next event.
So: What’s the most absurd element from this crazy night? The Lyle/Marielena relationship? The fight? The fact that Neha was totally cool being in a high-end strip club where women walked around in lingerie sucking on men’s fingers?
For me it’s the Mandarin. It means that Billy is in sales, and he speaks Mandarin, and somehow he still can’t get a job.
Does Hollywood know what year it is?
Cheering for losing
There are cameos by Will Ferrell and Rob Riggle, both playing major assholes, and Nick winds up romancing a beautiful Google executive, Dana (Rose Byrne), who just never had time for a relationship but now suddenly does with a half-hearted Owen Wilson. I could barely watch their scenes together. They were so awful, I just wanted to crawl away.
Sales turns out to be the final event, which is perfect for our team. And at the last minute they nail the sale, the douche is shown up, and everyone at Google, including the other intern teams who have just lost, and thus lost the chance at their dream job, stand and cheer for our team, because that’s what always happens in the real world. Then everything else falls into place. Nick winds up with Dana, Stuart with Neha, and Yo-Yo tells off his tiger mom, who looks proud that he does so. Oh, and Lyle winds up with the stripper. Because that’s what she’s doing there. Because that relationship has no chance of not failing.
Google “shitty movie.”
Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
It’s a rigged game.
I don’t mean the Hunger Games. I mean “The Hunger Games.”
The film’s creators, or possibly author Suzanne Collins (I’m not sure which since I haven’t cracked a spine in the series), rig the first game, “The Hunger Games,” by ensuring that Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) never loses favor with us by never actually killing anyone in cold blood in this kill-or-be-killed world. She triumphs without real blood on her hands.
Now, in the sequel, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the game really is rigged—this time by the other characters, particularly the game’s creator, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He’s using it, and Katniss, as a means to foment rebellion. As a result, once again she doesn’t have to kill in cold blood. Once again, when given the choice between murder and mercy, she goes with mercy. Once again, this never backfires on her.
But there’s a bigger reason why “The Hunger Games” is a rigged game: for a dictatorship, the Capitol comes pretty weak and dumb.
Dictatorship and distraction
Early on, for example, Plutarch gives Pres. Snow (Donald Sutherland) a way out:
Snow: She has become a beacon of hope for them. She has to be eliminated.
Plutarch: I agree she should die but in the right way. At the right time. ... Katniss Everdeen is a symbol. We don't have to destroy her, just her image. Show them that she's one of us now. Let them rally behind that.
The districts are already beginning to rebel. So he suggests a crackdown with public whippings and executions, then show these on television interspersed with shots of Katniss, the supposed rebel hero, shopping, trying on make-up, trying on a wedding dress. “They're gonna hate her so much,” he says, “they just might kill her for you.”
Great idea. So what happens to it?
Barely anything. The troops crack down on District 12, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsowrth, Thor’s brother) tackles Commander Thread (Patrick St. Espirit), and gets a public whipping for it. But guess who comes to the rescue? Katniss. And guess who comes to her rescue? Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). And guess who comes to his rescue? Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). And that’s that. She’s a heroine all over again because everyone saw enough of her bravery on television. So now Pres. Snow wants a new plan, even though it never looks like the first plan went into effect. And that’s when Plutarch reveals that all the previous winners, including Katniss, compete for the 75th Hunger Games. Which is why we get Katniss is another Hunger Games.
That’s one major problem. Here’s another. Early on, Gale says this to Katniss:
People are looking to you, Katniss. You've given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.
Here’s the thing, though. They are brave enough to take it. They are rebelling. The one who isn’t brave enough is Katniss. She keeps pulling back. Sure, Pres. Snow has threatened her mother and sister and hunky hunk Gale, but so what? She has a chance to change an awful, awful world. She just doesn’t grab it. Instead she encourages folks forward, like the old black man, who gives her the third-fingered salute and four-note whistle, and he gets executed before her distraught eyes.
Instead of trying to do something, Katniss plays along with the ruse: that she and Peeta are in love and about to get married and yadda yadda. Why does she do this again? I’ve actually forgotten. At one point, Haymitch tells her this:
From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.
But a distraction to which people? Those in the districts or in the Capitol? Or both? It seems like it should be in the districts but they never seem distracted. They never seem fooled. They never forget who the true enemy is.
I’m sorry, but the more I think about this movie the dumber it gets. If you have dictatorial powers, as Snow does, and control over the media, as this government does, then how can you not besmirch a name? It’s called propaganda. Do we need FOX-News to show him how it’s done?
In 1985 Neil Postman published a book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death, “ in which he argued that of the two great dystopian novels from the first half of the 20th century—Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984”—it was actually the former, whose weapon of governmental control was distraction, rather than the latter, whose weapon was dictatorship, that was the more prescient and more deadly. The point is this: the Capitol has both dicatorship and distraction—and a rebel hero uninterested in rebellion—and they still can’t control her.
Talk about a rigged game.
The most successful formula in movie history
Anyway there goes Katniss into another Hunger Games. Here are the bad dudes from District 1. Here’s a bit of practice. Here are possible allies. Here are the interviews conducted by cloyingly sentimental host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, channeling Jiminy Glick). And off they go.
The acting talent here is amazing for this type of movie. Along with the previously mentioned names, Elizabeth Banks is choice as the gloriously frivilous Effie Trinket; and both Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright are perfect as a half-cerebral, half-crazy Hunger Games team.
So what is it about this movie, this series, that makes it so popular? People talk about what a positive role model Katniss is, blah blah, but I think it boils down to the oldest, most successful formula in movie history: a strong woman having to choose between two men against a backdrop of tragedy. That’s “Gone with the Wind,” “Sound of Music,” “Titanic,” the “Twilight” series, and now “Hunger Games.” And like the “Twilight” series, the final “Hunger Games” is split into two parts: one for 2014, one for 2015.
I hope that distracts you enough that you forget what the real problems are.
Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
There's your best actor. Maybe supporting, too.
That’s what I kept thinking watching “Dallas Buyers Club,” directed by Jean-Marc Valée (“The Young Victoria”) and written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. For a time I was even thinking best picture, maybe, possibly, a candidate anyway, but then the movie lost something in its final third. Was it the battle between Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) and the various government agencies (IRS, FDA and DEA)? Was that too obvious? Was it the absence of Rayon (Jared Leto) after her death? Was it the presence of Jennifer Garner as Dr. Eve Saks? Garner was out of her element here. She came onscreen and the energy just drained away.
But McConaughey? Hoo boy.
Gotta die somehow
He plays a good ol’ boy: a Texas electrician, part-time rodeo rider, and full-time racounteur. The first images we see are of a bucking bull from behind the fence. Since we also hear snorting, we think we’re getting the bull’s perspective, but it’s actually Woodruff banging a girl in the bull’s pen. He looks a bit thin and tired and has a persistent cough. Bad sign. A cough in the first act is like the gun in the first act.
AIDS comes into the conversation quickly via headlines about Rock Hudson. Woodruff is hardly sympathetic:
Woodruff: You hear Rock Hudson was a cocksucker?
Friend: Where’d you hear that?
Woodruff: It’s called a newspaper.
He’s more immediately concerned about a rodeo bet he made that went awry. He’s running from the men he owes money to—nearly a dozen cowboys, from the looks—when he runs into a friend, a cop, Tucker (Steve Zahn), who’s had to deal with this before and won’t protect him now. So Woodruff gets inventive. He decks Tucker. On the ride home, Tucker tries to give him some sound advice about his reckless nature and how it’ll likely get him killed. “Gotta die somehow,” Woodruff says in that smooth McConaughey voice. He says it like he’ll live forever.
A few days later, there’s an accident at work and he’s taken to the hospital, where he’s told by two doctors wearing surgical masks that he has both HIV and full-blown AIDS. His reaction is interesting. “You’re fucking kidding me,” he says. When Dr. Savard (Denis O’Hare) recounts the ways people contract HIV, beginning with homosexual sex, his reaction gets more interesting. “I ain’t no faggot, motherfucker!” The doctor remains calm and gives him 30 days to live but Woodruff is still on the first two stages of the five stages of grief: denial and anger. “There ain’t nothing out there that can kill Ron Woodruff in 30 days!” he shouts.
Over the next 30 days, he’ll go through the next two stages: bargaining and depression. At the library, he researches the disease, realizes how he contracted it (sex with an IV drug user, I believe, but it’s a bit murky), and searches for a cure that doesn’t exist. AZT is the drug bandied about, and trials are being done, but there’s a chance you’re in the control group—the sugar pill group—and he’s not willing to take that chance. So he gets inventive again. At a strip club he sees an orderly from the hospital and bribes him to get him AZT drugs, which he washes down with whiskey and cocaine.
During this period, friends abandon him. There’s a great scene where he goes to his usual bar, orders his usual drink, heads to his usual table of friends. But they’re no longer his friends. They call him faggot. He’s immediately ready to fight them all, and they want to kick his ass, but an interesting dynamic occurs. No one wants to touch him. No one wants to get within 10 feet of him. He’s a like-poled magnet: He takes a step forward and they a step back. He spits on them and curses the place as he leaves. He’ll do this a lot during the movie. I lost track of the number of times he left a room shouting, “Fuck all y’all!”
By the end of the 30-day period he’s left with nothing: no friends, no home (he finds his trailer home padlocked, with FAGGOT BLOOD spraypainted on the side), and the AZT is only making him worse. Plus it runs out. But the orderly gives him an address in Mexico, outside the realm of the FDA, so that’s where he heads. Because Ron Woodruff may be a lying homophobic asshole, but in this movie he never winds up on the fifth stage of grief: acceptance. He thrives at stages 2 and 3: anger and bargaining.
FDA, DEA, etc.
It’s in Mexico that the story really begins. I didn’t know this going in. All of this came as a pleasant surprise for me.
Near death, he’s saved, for the time being, by Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne, in a great cameo), who lost his license in the states, and who counsels against AZT, which destroys all cells, both good and bad. Instead, Ron should concentrate on building up his immune system with vitamins, zinc, and aloe. He also recommends DDC, a less-toxic anti-viral, and Peptide T, a non-toxic protein, neither of which are approved by the FDA. He thinks about all the AIDS sufferers in Dallas and says, “You could make a fortune off this stuff,” and a light goes off. CUT TO: filling his trunk with drugs for the trip back. There he starts the Dallas Buyers Club, modeled after similar clubs in New York. Since it’s illegal to sell non-FDA-approved drugs, he sells memberships into a club, which dispenses the drugs.
He partners with a transexual, Rayon, and soon has lines forming outside the motel room they’ve set up. He also attracts the attention of the usual government agencies: FDA, DEA, etc. A battle is enjoined and lessons are learned. He becomes more tolerant of gay people, for example. He keeps using the epithet “Cocksucker” but now it’s for FDA officials. That’s the journey he takes: from anti-gay to anti-government.
Some have complained, or celebrated, that this makes the movie too Tea Party, but for me it’s just too simplistic. It’s the brash homophobe protecting the poor gay folks who can’t protect themselves. The government gets blamed but not the infamously homophobic Reagan administration. Some of the casting doesn’t help. When I first saw Denis O’Hare as Dr. Sevard, I thought, “Oh, it’s the guy who usually plays a corporate asshole. Nice that he gets to play a ... No, he’s a corporate asshole here, too.” Kevin Rankin, the white-trash dirtbag of “White House Down” and “Breaking Bad,” plays a white-trash dirtbag. Michael O’Neill, who usually plays a bureaucratic douche, plays the main FDA douche. Etc.
But Jared Leto is a revelation and McConaughey is uncompromising in his portrayal. He’s corralled his charm and energy into the service of full-dimensional characters in good movies.
I did like the scene at the end before the district court in San Francisco. Woodruff has sued to use and sell non-FDA approved drugs but loses. It’s the language of the judge that I appreicated—the difference between law and justice:
Mr. Woodroof, there is not a person in this courtroom who is not moved to compassion by your plight. What is lacking here is the legal authority to intervene. I’m sorry.
What do you call that? A liberal judge not legislating from the bench.
I also like the final images: Woodruff riding a bull at a rodeo. You wonder if it’s current, if he’s gotten well enough to do that again, but it’s both flashback and metaphor. This is what he’s been doing the entire movie, and he finally gets thrown on September 12, 1992. He was given 30 days and took more than 2,000.
But then we get another title that dampens the effect of much of the movie: we’re informed that lower doses of AZT, the devil drug in the movie, wound up leading to the cure we currently have. So it was hardly a devil drug; it was just dispensed improperly. It confuses the movie’s clean formulaic lines, suggesting that maybe they shouldn’t have been so clean and formulaic.
But “Dallas Buyers Club” is still a movie worth seeing—for its performances, its energy, the fact that there’s comedy and adventure in a movie about AIDS. It’s also a good reminder of what AIDS and homophobia felt like 30 years ago.
Movie Review: Parkland (2013)
The saddest American day of my lifetime probably occurred when I was 10 months old. We keep telling it again and again. We keep probing the wound. Sometimes I think we like it. It makes us feel something even if that feeling is overwhelming sadness and horror for all that was lost. In this way the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, is, for Americans, what the Onion Cellar in Gunter Grass’ novel “The Tin Drum” is for Germans: a place to go to cry.
But since we keep telling it, how do you tell it anew?
Writer and first-time director Peter Landesman does just that in “Parkland,” a 90-minute film based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November.” Landesman doesn’t tell the story from the perspective of the principal characters; he tells it from the perspective of the people whose lives that day were peripherally if monumentally affected: Abraham Zapruder, who shot the 8mm footage of the assassination; James Hosty, from the Dallas FBI office, who had been tracking Oswald, and who, in the aftermath, was blamed and even fingered by conspiracy theorists; Robert Oswald, brother of Lee, whose family name was forever besmirched; and the various doctors and nurses at Parkland Memorial Hospital, who tried to save both Pres. Kennedy that Friday and his assassin two days later.
History’s supporting players
It’s a movie about history’s supporting players starring great supporting actors. Marcia Gay Harden, who won the Oscar for supporting actress in 2000 (“Pollock”), plays Doris Nelson, the supervising nurse at Parkland. Paul Giamatti, nominated in 2005 for “Cinderella Man,” plays Zapruder, a man of enthusiasms, an immigrant who loved America and then unknowingly but unflinchingly filmed one of its great horrors. Billy Bob Thornton (supporting nom for “A Simple Plan” in 1998) is Forrest Sorrels, head of the local FBI office, Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children” in 2006) plays the priest who administers last rites, and Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom” in 2010 and “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2012) is spooky as the Oswald matriarch, Marguerite, who insists that her son was an American agent who had done a great deed, and that her family would “never be ordinary again.”
Add in James Badge Dale as Bob Oswald, Ron Livington as Hosty, Colin Hanks as Dr. Malcolm Perry, the attending physician, and a couple of former teen heartthrobs—Zac Efron as the resident doctor who first began working on Pres. Kennedy, and Tom Welling as Roy Kellerman, the secret service agent who rode in the presidential limousine—and you’ve got quite a cast. Everyone’s good. A few (Harden, Weaver) are outstanding.
The details make the movie. Zapruder knew immediately. Everyone else is rushing around but he knew. I like the way Dr. Perry, in a board meeting, says “Five minutes” when told he’s needed in O.R. Nothing was ready. Secret service agents had to demand a stretcher and then rush through the narrow hallways to the small operating room. Blood was everywhere and on everyone. Zapruder is horrified by the “undignified end for a very dignified man” but he doesn’t know the half of it. Kennedy’s clothes are cut away during the futile attempt to revive him. Jackie continues to clutch portions of her husband’s skull and brain, as if they will be needed to put him back together. There is a shouting and shoving match in the operating room between Kellerman, who insists on bringing the body back to Washington, D.C., and Earl Rose (Rory Cochrane), the Dallas coroner, who insists on performing the autopsy there, as required by law. The body, in a casket, is then rushed to Love Field and a dozen strong men shakily, almost frantically carry it onto Air Force One. Chairs have been removed in anticipation (“We’re not carrying it below like a piece of luggage!” one man says), but a partition still has to be ripped out by Kellerman to make the turn. There’s such a rushed, frantic quality to all of this, it’s as if they’re making a getaway. It’s as if they’re trying to escape a nightmare. They are and they are.
We also get moments of dignity and solemnity. The last rites, for example; and the crucifix retrieved by Doris Nelson from her locker.
In Landesman’s account, the doctors and nurses come off well, Rose less so, and the local FBI office, where records of a visit by Oswald two weeks earlier were destroyed, not at all. At the same time, one member, Sorrels, in browline eyeglasses and compact fedora, never loses his cool, nor his sense of the enormity of the situation, as he guides Zapruder in the development of his 8mm footage, commiserates with Bob Oswald (“I feel sorry for you”), and gives us one of the film’s few funny lines, as he stands in the operating room while the same doctors and nurses that worked on JFK work on Lee Harvey Oswald:
Sorrels: We need a confession.
Nelson: What if he dies?
Sorrels: We need a confession first.
In the end, the two funerals are juxtaposed: the stately funeral for Pres. Kennedy, attended by all, mourned over by all, while Bob Oswald, with his crazy mother, attempts to bury his brother, whose body no church cemetery will take, who has no pallbearers, and who is hand-buried by Bob and two black gravediggers. It’s a pauper’s funeral on a cold, gray Texas day for the most despised man in the world.
“Parkland,” distributed by Exclusive Media, seems to have gotten a similar pauper’s burial. It was barely in theaters, and unlike Oswald it didn’t deserve this rush job, nor its 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a good movie that focuses on the small within the historic. It gives us all the sad details.