It's bloody and distressing but Kennedy's death still compels
Today marks the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination and over the past few weeks TV channels have scheduled numerous documentaries recalling the tragic event from a myriad of angles. First-hand accounts of secret-servicemen. Check. Tender home movies of the Kennedy family. Check. And yes, there have even been images of tourists lying in the road across from the infamous grassy knoll for that essential photographic keepsake.
As ugly as it is, Kennedy's murder continues to fascinate and even those who were not born when he was shot never tire of seeing the grim footage of the President recoiling in his blue convertible as his wife Jackie clambers across the boot to retrieve parts of his skull.
What happened after that is what writer/director Peter Landesman has chosen as the focus of the film, so named because Kennedy died at the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
It is at Parkland where medical staff and Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), a first-year surgical resident, try desperately to resuscitate the President in front of his gun-toting protection squad and a distraught Jackie Kennedy. It's a very bloody and distressing scene and although we know the outcome, it's still desperately sad.
Based on Vincent Bugliosi's book Four Days in November, the movie also devotes time to those outside the hospital, such as the FBI agents who nearly had Lee Harvey Oswald in their grasp and the Dallas Secret Service chief (played by Billy Bob Thornton), who just wanders around aimlessly. And then there is Abraham Zapruder (Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti), the Jewish dress manufacturer who took his cine-camera to film the motorcade and in doing so became responsible for making probably the most intensely watched film of the 20th century.
Today, such a tragedy would have been captured on a million iPhones and posted on Facebook in seconds. But in '63 it was just Zapruder who unwittingly found himself in possession of something everyone wanted, while coping with the horror of what he had witnessed.
Having cast the fantastic Giamatti, much more should have been made of his role, as well as the other behind-the-scenes characters who just get lost in a dramatic and well-executed (ouch) film. It feels all too familiar in a way I imagine the director never intended it to be.