Zac Efron about to pronounce the president dead in Parkland


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



30 March


Ronald Reagan shot, 1981

On this day in 1981, after just over two months in office, President Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton. His would-be assassin was John Hinckley Jr, whose attempt on the president’s life seemed to be part of a plan to impress Jodie Foster, with whom he’d become obsessed after seeing her in the film Taxi Driver. Hinckley’s intention was not to kill Reagan but the President – he’d been focused on killing President Jimmy Carter when Carter was in office until being arrested on a firearms charge. Reagan just happened to be the man doing the job on the day in question. Hinckley loosed off six .22 calibre shots from a Röhm RG-14 towards Reagan as he left the Hilton at 2.25pm. None of them hit the president directly, though one ricocheted off his car and hit him in the chest. A policeman, a secret service agent and Reagan’s press secretary were also wounded (the last was paralysed), while Reagan was taken to George Washington University Hospital where he was said to be “close to death”. He recovered and was released from hospital less than two weeks later, his reputation as a toughie immeasurably enhanced.




Parkland (2013, dir: Peter Landesman)

There are plenty of big name actors in writer/director Peter Landesman’s debut movie – Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton – though all take a back seat to the story it tells. Parkland being the hospital where President Kennedy was brought on the day he was assassinated. It was also the hospital where JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was brought when he was brought down by Jack Ruby’s vengeful bullet a couple of days later. The film tells both tales, the former in a major key, the latter in a minor. Mixing things we know about the day – we meet Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) as he’s excitedly preparing to take some 8mm footage of the President – with things we don’t, the film’s great strength is its behind-the-scenes “you are there” sequences, first when noble doctors are battling to save a man who is, effectively, already dead on arrival, later when Oswald (Jeremy Strong) is also brought in to the same room for pretty much the same routine by the same doctors. It’s the small touches that lend the whole thing a fascination that goes beyond the morbid – the tussles between various branches of the security service to “control” the situation, the sight of the “Kennedy’s” FBI detail being sworn to defend new president, Johnson (the office not the man being the thing). And at around 20 minutes in, that’s it, the president is declared dead, and the film switches to Oswald, his arrest, and the affect this had on his family – the appalled decent brother Robert (James Badge Dale), the batshit mother (Jacki Weaver, since Animal Kingdom the go-to actor for poisonous matriarchs). Thirty years ago a film that gave so much time to the killer, asked us to feel the pain of those near to him, would have been impossible to make, for all sorts of reasons. Now, Parkland’s struggle is getting us to empathise twice – first with a man who, for all his faults, is still bathed in a heroic aura. Then again with the weasel who killed him. Or if not sympathise with him, then his family, who we see burying him while the whole of America is watching the interment of the former president on TV. Efron, Giamatti, Harden and a solidly excellent Billy Bob Thornton as the man in black trying to co-ordinate mayhem, all take second place to that task, which Landesman achieves in muted fashion, because if he’d tried it otherwise, the film probably would never have been made.



Why Watch?


  • The audacity of telling the story of both men
  • Barry Ackroyd’s period cinematography
  • The brilliantly chaotic editing of Markus Czyzewski and Leo Trombetta
  • The really solid cast includes Ron Livingston, Colin Hanks, Jackie Earle Haley


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Parkland – at Amazon






Sharon Stone and Demi Moore in Bobby


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



20 November



Robert Kennedy born, 1925

On this day in 1925, Robert Kennedy was born. The seventh child and third son of Joseph Kennedy Sr – who had made a fortune out of brokering deals with Hollywood studios and then importing whisky into post-Prohibition America – Robert was, like his father, not particularly academic but, having been gifted a good education by his socially and politically ambitious father, made it to Harvard, then went on to law school.

Thanks to the manoeuvring of his father, Robert rose quickly, working first at the US Department of Justice, then for scourge-of-the-communists Joe McCarthy, pausing to help mastermind his brother John’s campaign to become a US senator.

His campaigns against union corruption and organised crime made his name, and in 1960 he was made Attorney General by his brother, now President, which was the sort of dynastic nepotism that the Kennedys were famous for. He was in many respects the power behind the JFK throne – no Attorney General since has had closer access to the president, or was consulted on so many aspects of policy – notably foreign policy crises in Berlin and Cuba.

He was an effective scourge of the mafia, sought to rein in the power of FBI boss J Edgar Hoover and continued his campaigns against union corruption. But he became best known for his championing of the civil rights movement, as represented by Martin Luther King Jr.

After his brother’s assassination and Lyndon Johnson’s surprise decision not to stand for re-election, Robert joined the presidential race in 1968. However he was assassinated while on the campaign trail, by Sirhan Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian who had become enraged by RFK’s support for Israel.

Thus a great campaigner for civil rights at home was laid low by his perceived stance against civil rights in a foreign land.




Bobby (2006, dir: Emilio Estevez)

Though the tagline – “He saw wrong and tried to right it. He saw suffering and tried to heal it…” etc etc – is bordering on the hagiographic, Emilio Estevez’s film is not in the business of canonising Robert Kennedy, or even of painting a picture of the man. Instead it’s a portrait of the times in which he lived, through the lives of the various people who are in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, on the day he died in 1968.

Structured like 1932’s Grand Hotel, which assembled a starry cast headed by Greta Garbo and Lionel Barrymore, Bobby takes a similarly starry assembly and gives each member a neat vignette tailored to their strengths.

So Anthony Hopkins burbles, William H Macy winces, Laurence Fishburne intones, Heather Graham undresses, Ashton Kutcher dudes about. Only Lindsay Lohan seems to be actually doing any acting outside her comfort zone (but then Lohan has talent).

There is a lot to like, and if you don’t happen to like whoever is on screen, there’ll be another vignette, another set of actors along in a few minutes.

Revelations on the way include watching Demi Moore and Sharon Stone without the usual “years younger” make-up on – they look terrible but they are meant to look terrible. Moore plays a boozy old Liz Taylor-alike soak, and Stone is a slutty beautician and pulls a whole array of compost-heap faces – she is particularly fabulous.

Director Estevez has called in a lot of favours, in other words, including one from his father, Martin Sheen, who also turns up. Estevez’s brilliance consists in hiding, just, the fact that we’re watching little more than cameos – it’s the no-name actors who provide the actual dramatic heft.

Weaving through all those stories of star and non-star alike are Estevez’s themes: the collapse of the post-war liberal consensus, the death of progress, the arrival of identity politics, moral relativism, the personal as political – the postmodern world in other words.

And just when you’re beginning to wonder whether all these various strands, themes and people are just going to flap about on screen in an unconnected way, Estevez starts to pull them all together as he engineers us towards the pantry and the moment of RFK’s assassination. Suddenly the tension peaks, it all makes sense, it’s all rather sad, it’s all rather horrible. Bobby is a very impressive film.



Why Watch?


  • Emilio Estevez’s best film as director, star, whatever
  • All-star casts don’t come much more all-star
  • William H Macy is wincing because Sharon Stone is actually cutting his hair
  • You wanna see Shia LaBeouf naked – ok, maybe not


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Bobby – at Amazon