The film begins at Parkland Hospital, Dallas, with dishy resident, Dr Jim Carrico (Zac Ephron), doing the rounds and flirting with his favourite staff nurse. He is watched over by the more experienced Nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden), who adjusts her cap in readiness for the President’s visit; she is about to see more of Kennedy than she could have wished for. We then cut to a local tailor Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who chooses a prime spot from which to view the cavalcade. It is his Super 8 footage that we have viewed ever since, those grainy colour shots of the President being shot and his wife clambering over the car. We also meet the cops and secret service agents entrusted with maintaining public order and the president’s safety, including Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) and Detective James Hosty (Ron Livinston). The latter turns out to have had a long and varied relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald, keeping an eye on this would-be revolutionary loser.
Carrico is the first doctor to treat Kennedy. He and his team are surrounded by Kennedy’s bodyguards and Jackie. The scene in the trauma room is powerful and moving. It works well at depicting these ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary event. Sorrels meets Zapruder and treats him with that old-school politeness so inimical to Texas. This Texan trait is seen elsewhere, but with more underlying threat, when a policeman suggests to Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale) that he pack up his wife and kids, change his name and never return to Texas. Robert is a central figure in this film, as his mother Marguerite (Jacki Weaver).
Parkland is where Oswald was also taken to and in a neat parallel he is treated by the same medical team and is buried on the same day as Kennedy. Just as Landesman concentrates on the small characters, so he focuses on the minutiae: we see the argument between the coroner and the secret service agents and the practical difficulties involved in getting the coffin onto the plane. The are moments of great humanity, such as the journalists at Oswald’s funeral lending themselves as pall bearers. But there is little here that we haven’t seen before and the film borders on the mawkish at times, almost relishing in the enormous pain that this President’s death provoked and continues to instil today. A well-intentioned but mediocre film that will appeal to many but that does not deserve its place in competition in Venice.