Director: Peter Landesman
Screenwriter: Peter Landesman from Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November”
Cast: James Badge Dale, Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Colin Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Ron Livingston
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 9/24/13
Opens: October 4, 2013
Three major events of the past 100 years are so earth-shattering that inevitably people would ask: Where were you when…” For example, “Where were you when the Towers were brought down on 9/11?” “Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?” And “Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” In the last instance, I was busy teaching a Social Class in a Brooklyn high school when the word got out shortly after 1 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. Needless to say, no more work went on in the school on that day. The mood of the country was obviously somber (not including that of Malcolm X who said infamously “Chickens coming home to roost”). A number of people in Texas were allegedly overjoyed in a state that was known at the time for right-wing conservatism and dislike of the “Eastern establishment.”
In an equally somber film filled with melodramatics, Peter Landesman, directing the film with an adaptation of Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November,” the screen is taken up largely at Parkland hospital where almost ironically both Kennedy and his assailant Lee Harvey Oswald, were taken—the latter after being shot by Jack Ruby, whose name does not come up at all in the movie.
Landesman captures the frantic scene, throwing in some elements that appear theatrical to keep the movie running at a furious pace. For example, maybe this is true though I had not heard about it at the time, but is it possible that the principal doctor working over the JFK’s body was a resident, Dr. Charles James “Jim” Carrico, who was sleep-deprived as are most residents in hospitals across the nation? We can understand that he and the staff, including nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden), did not have time to wash their hands and that nurse Nelson was instrumental in chasing out members of the Secret Service, slamming the door on them, and then proceeding to help work over the president’s body.
Peter Landesman, at one time a journalist now knocking out his first film, is adept at making the time go by quickly, as there is virtually no letup in the action. Some of the major conflicting moments include that of a physical battle between the medical examiner and the federal Secret Service men over possession of the body, the former insisting that the crime is one in which the state has jurisdiction (true) and that no body may leave without his autopsy. Nonetheless the feds win control over the president by sheer force, taxiing him to a waiting plane and removing a couple of seats to allow the coffin to remain stable.
A conversation between the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) and his brother Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Jr. (James Badge Dale) makes the killer seem like a normal person, claiming his innocence to the disbelief of Robert. The only person in town who insists on LHO’s innocence is Oswald’s obnoxious and arrogant mother, Marguerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver), who claims that her son had served as a U.S. agent and deserves to be buried “in Arlington National Cemetery next to the president.”
Paul Giamatti turns in an overwrought performance as Abraham Zapruder, apparently the only person to have photographed the president’s arrival at the fateful curve in the road and whose 8mm film had to be adapted to a 35mm format. One need not wonder why presidents today no longer ride in open-top convertibles. Obama, for example, uses a bulletproof limo with windows shaded. Lyndon B. Johnson is shown much more adequately protected as he is hustled onto a plane after his swearing-in, Secret Service agents on all the man’s side ready to take a bullet for the Chief Executive is needed.
If something appears stilted about the entire proceeding, it could be that the “stilted” is a good way to describe the blah 1950s and early 1960s, men in black suits, white shirts, narrow ties with clasps lest a piece of fabric look natural. This is a film that should be seen especially by whole generations who were not even alive fifty years ago and know about the Kennedy assassination only through their history classes.
Rated PG-13. 93 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Acting – B-
Technical – B-
Overall – B