By The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Despite the 50 years that have passed since former U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s death, there seems to be a weighty responsibility that accompanies making a film which captures the frantic blood-splattered moments following his assassination.
It’s one the cast and crew of “Parkland” took very seriously as they made the movie which focuses on the minor characters who surrounded JFK right after he was shot. “You want to be as honest and true to history as you can, but you also want to shed some light on aspects of the story that maybe people aren’t familiar with,” said Colin Hanks, who plays Dr. Malcolm Perry, a veteran surgeon who tries to save the president’s life. “Everybody knows the main characters, but not many people know the supporting ones. The stuff that they went through on those days was incredible. They were forced upon them and they reacted in the best ways that they could at the time, so you want to try and be honest and true to that.” “Parkland” — which takes its title from the name of the Dallas hospital where the president and later his assassin were both taken — doesn’t delve into conspiracy theories, nor does it take on the form of a murder mystery. Instead, the film simply lays bare the chaos that followed the shooting as experienced by the ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary spiral of events. “It was hugely educational for me ... the sort of simple truths that the movie explores. I didn’t really know all that went on,” said Zac Efron, who plays Dr. Charles (Jim) Carrico, the young resident on duty when a wounded JFK arrives in his operating room. “This was a very specific look at this day. The way that 9-11 was for me ... It was just fantastically eye-opening.” The film, which was screened at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, weaves together narratives from the “bit players” in the tragedy, featuring Billy Bob Thornton as a surly Secret Service agent, James Badge Dale as the baffled brother of JFK’s assassin and Jacki Weaver as the shooter’s unapologetic, headstrong mother. Some among the cast hope the focus on ordinary people will mean audiences feel more of a connection with the movie. “There’s a kind of universal human trauma that people are going through when anybody’s murdered,” explained Paul Giamatti, who convincingly plays the distraught bystander who famously filmed the president’s shooting. “I like the idea of trying to do something without too much of a sense of reading backwards from our time, to try to do something of in the moment when it was happening, and to dramatize the fact that it was just chaos.” Some of the event’s chilling aftermath was felt during the shooting of the movie itself when Giamatti filmed scenes at the site of the assassination. “It was really weird that day that we shot there. I don’t know that people knew we were going to be shooting there,” he said. “It’s rare that you actually get to be in absolutely the exact place that the thing happened. And I was standing absolutely in the place the guy was standing at and I was saying what the guy actually said ... there’s something spooky about it.” The emphasis on accuracy — despite its potentially eerie side-effects — was very important to journalist-turned-director Peter Landesman. “Everything in that movie happened. It was very important to us that we be journalistically spot on with this because we know what’s going to happen ... there’s going to be a tidal wave of controversy,” he said. That attention to detail meant years of research, extensive interviews with some of the real people portrayed on screen and scrutinizing everything from famous footage to police transcripts to get things right. “We’re very sure of ourselves,” said Landesman. “There’s not a beat in this movie that’s not true.” Telling that true story of what everyday people went through following the assassination was an element Landesman felt was largely missing from the public consciousness. “We go back to the Kennedy assassination because it was the conception of modern America. ... I thought it was time to do this movie from a different point of view,” he explained. “The stories of the little people, to me they’re always more interesting.” Nonetheless, the very nature of the movie’s subject matter — which will be playing across screens almost half a century after the historic event — has Landesman a little nervous about how the film will be received. “A lot of important people are going to see this movie, a lot of people who matter. And a lot already have. I felt an obligation to get this story really right,” he said. “There’s something sacred about it. ... you don’t want to besmirch it.” “Parkland” opens in theatres Friday.