THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS; the Story of JFK's Killing May Be Familiar to Most, but 50 Years on, This Film Reveals Fresh Views of the Assassination

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Byline: BRIAN VINER'S Friday film reviews

Parkland (12A)

Verdict: Grassy knoll drama ***

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (12A)

Verdict: Top-notch sequel ****

TODAY'S 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was always bound to yield a major feature-film release, in addition to the endless television documentaries that have tackled the subject from every conceivable angle.

Such was JFK's glamour, and his showbiz connections both public (actor Peter Lawford was his brother-in-law) and private (he had an affair with Marilyn Monroe), that this is one anniversary on which Hollywood couldn't possibly miss out. Besides, the TV drama Mad Men has made the Sixties more madly fashionable than ever. The only surprise is that there isn't a slew of films, and a regiment of people in Trilby and pillbox hats, hitting cinemas this weekend.

It is furthermore a relief to find that this one, Parkland, is constructed more from fact than supposition, with none of the wild flights of fancy that inspired Oliver Stone's 1991 thriller JFK.

Parkland was the name of the Dallas hospital to which the dying Kennedy was taken, and also, with grisly irony, where surgeons tried to save the life of his stricken assassin Lee Harvey Oswald two days later. Writer-director Peter Landesman's film tells the story from the perspective of the bit players involved in those extraordinary events: the doctors and nurses, the secret service detail, Oswald's brother Robert, and Abraham Zapruder, the women's clothing manufacturer who had no idea when he set off to record the presidential motorcade, that he was about to shoot the most talked-about home movie ever.

But as Zapruder (the pitchperfect Paul Giamatti) hauls himself onto a concrete pedestal with his camera, we, the audience, know exactly that.

It isn't always easy to tell a story with a universally known ending, and film-makers often tackle this challenge by providing the kind of extended prologue that had some of us positively willing an iceberg to rise out of the waves and clobber the Titanic.

Landesman doesn't make that mistake. He includes some actual newsreel footage of Kennedy in Fort Worth prior to his arrival in Dallas, and an excited Zapruder spotting the motorcade for the first time, and then he cuts to the chase. A Parkland switchboard operator gets the banal 'iceberg-ahead' line -- 'we have a code 3 coming in' -- that prefaces one of the biggest news stories of the century.

And then, followed by a jerky camera intended to evoke the chaos of the moment, in comes the gunshot victim, with a terrified young duty doctor, Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), given the monumental responsibility of saving him, and a traumatised Jackie Kennedy (Kat Steffens) holding some of his brain matter in her hands.

Landesman does a good job not just of dramatising all this, but of weaving it with hugely familiar real images, such as a solemn Walter Cronkite in the CBS newsroom confirming Kennedy's death. …