Dallas, November 22, 1963, the assassination of JFK. A tapestry of true stories are connected by three threads: the Parkland Hospital trauma team, Lee Harvey Oswalds family, and the bystander who shot the most famous home movie in history.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago has been examined in many dramas and documentaries, but this is a hybrid in which the famous or infamous are not the focus. Instead we get personal perspectives of people — a nurse (Marcia Gay Harden), an FBI agent (Ron Livingston) and so on — caught up in the tragic, chaotic events. Unlike Emilio Estevez’s not dissimilar Bobby, which imagined two-dozen characters in the hotel where Robert Kennedy was shot, this is a factual dramatisation, based on Vincent Bugliosi’s precise narrative Four Days In November.
Former war correspondent and investigative journalist Peter Landesman, making his directorial debut, has a hectically realistic approach, helped by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, known for his work with Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass.
An impressive ensemble fill dozens of parts, some with barely any dialogue, but this is not about getting to know these people’s lives; it’s about how they stepped up in the moment. Among the more prominent are Zac Efron as the exhausted surgical resident on call in Parkland’s ER, and Billy Bob Thornton as a secret service man tracking evidence while shattered by a sense of failure and guilt.
James Badge Dale is a standout as Robert Oswald, the brother dealing with instant infamy and responsibility for the family. So is the remarkable Jacki Weaver as the Oswalds’ difficult, delusional mother. And Paul Giamatti deserves mention as Abraham Zapruder, the immigrant garment manufacturer who excitedly took his brand-new Super 8 camera to Dealey Plaza, capturing the images that remain haunting to this day.
There are arguably too many special agents-in-charge, guys in cowboy hats, all the president’s men and confrontational mini-dramas, but the film has its moments: cutting between the solemnities for JFK in Washington, DC and the furtive, pathetic disposing of Lee Oswald’s remains on the same day; the ugly, unseemly fighting by rival officials literally over JFK’s body; the clumsy struggle to get his coffin into Air Force One, and the ghostly images of the motorcade reflected in Zapruder’s glasses.
Dramatically its bitty, with, to paraphrase a great American newsman of the time, too much, too fast. But there is no denying how absorbing the tumultuous events of those four days remain.