Film Review – He Named Me Malala (2015) – the story of a truly inspirational young woman


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“Believe in yourselves.

Believe in your dream.

Nothing can stop you if you are committed.”

Those were the inspiring words for school students that ended last week’s incredible UK premiere event for He Named Me Malala, spoken via video feed from the young woman whose story has captured the world.

Three years ago, on 9th October 2012, at the age of 15, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school in her home in the Swat Valley, northern Pakistan. Her crime – having the courage to raise her voice in support of education for girls everywhere and her own right to continue to go to school (which had been banned by the Taliban in her region). It was a shocking event and it was feared Malala would die or never recover from her horrific ordeal.

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Malala and her family

Malala did survive and this documentary film, charting her life (and that of her parents and two brothers) since that day in 2012, is a testament to her determination to not only survive, but to raise her voice louder than ever in support of a cause for which she has so much passion, following the example of her father, who was also a school owner and activist in Pakistan. Hers is a remarkable story and this is a truly remarkable, moving and inspiring film.

Director Davis Guggenheim (best known for films An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman) was the only director approached by the producers, who felt his style of filmmaking would enable him to put the family at ease. As well as filming the family at home, doing all the everyday things any family does, a lot of the content for the film is a result of his long conversations with them, after he arrived with no notes and just a microphone and let them open up to him. Parts of these conversations form narration of the film, which he describes as a pictorial expression of these quiet conversations.

It was also interesting to learn at last week’s Q&A (with the producers, director and Malala’s father Ziauddin) following the London Film Festival screening of the film that initially the plan had been to make a mainstream feature film of Malala’s story. However, on meeting her and her incredible family (her younger brothers are stars in their own right in the film, bringing moments of fun and laughter to the screen, as they talk about their sister), producer Laurie MacDonald felt no one could play Malala and that capturing this special Muslim family for a larger Western audience would perhaps be even more powerful.

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Malala & director Davis Guggenheim

It was absolutely the right decision. The greatest strength of the film is how immediately you connect with Malala and her family. Now living in Birmingham, they have had to leave their home, friends, country and part of themselves (especially her mother) behind because Malala and her father had the courage to speak out. The Taliban have publicly said that if she returns they will kill her. A fictionalized depiction would have taken part of the story’s power away from it and with someone as inspirational, funny, intelligent and eloquent as Malala at its heart I can’t imagine anyone else conveying her message better than she can.

Early on the director also decided on another element for the film that I loved. This was to weave the history of Malala’s family and her heritage in to the documentary, stories that couldn’t be captured in normal documentary fashion. Instead, with the help of Image Nation and an animation team, the stories of Malala’s parents as children and herself growing up in the beautiful Swat Valley before the Taliban are brought to life through animated scenes, which leap off the screen as if pastel paintings. Guggenheim spoke of how hearing Ziauddin remember stories was like a storybook and he wanted this to form part of the film. It works superbly, with these stories of the past, interwoven with the documentary moments from the present, as we see Malala adjusting to life and school in the UK, enjoying simple pleasures with her family at home and travelling across the world to meet world leaders, refugees and school children in places such as Nigeria.

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Q&A at the BFI with Malala via live link and Laurie MacDonald & Walter Parkes (producers), Davis Guggenheim (director ) and Malala’s father Ziauddin

The film in fact begins with such a scene, as we hear the story of the girl Malala was named after Malalai of Maiwand, who in the 18th century inspired the Afghan fighters not to give up in their fight against the British. She led them to victory with her courage, risking her life and was shot during the battle. It’s an astonishing beginning to learn that this young woman from Malala’s Pashtun culture’s past was her father’s inspiration for her name, when their stories have such striking similarities.

He Named Me Malala is very much a story of a father/ daughter relationship. After the screening Ziauddin spoke about how you can inspire your children and in a patriarchal society in which women are deemed to be property, when he named Malala, he meant it. He did not clip her wings. In the film, we hear his fear that on waking after the shooting she would blame him for letting her take such risks. In fact Malala calls him her inspiration and is pleased that he did not stop her from doing what she felt she had to do. She spoke last night that this is not just her story, but that of lots of other girls. The point is she isn’t unique, she is one of many and she wants everyone to learn and to help enable every girl to have an education.

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At it heart, the film is about the bond between father and daughter

As one audience member raised last night, documentaries tend not to get the wider public attention that feature films receive, but I hope very much that the producers’ determination, together with the strong support they have from Fox Searchlight, means that He Named Me Malala will see the wide release it so deserves including, I hope, in schools across the world, to help educate a new generation. I strongly believe that everyone, no matter your age, race, religion or background should see this film. It will make you laugh and cry, while inspiring and educating you. The world is lucky to have such an important role model as Malala Yousafzai.

He Named Me Malala was released in the United States on 9th October and in the UK on 6th November. For more details about the film and about the Malala Fund organization and the #withmalala campaign, visit its website. http://www.henamedmemalalamovie.com/

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BFI London Film Festival 2015 – My Top 20 Films To See

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Wednesday night was the BFI London Film Festival’s programme launch for members, which proved to be an insightful look at the eclectic mix of films being showcased this October. The festival this year sees 238 films, from 57 countries being screened across London (there are 16 participating venues this year) from 7th – 18th October.

Festival director Clare Stewart declared that 2015 is the year of strong women and that the festival showcases this through not only films about the strength of women, but also by having 20% of directors represented being women (admittedly not a huge number, but Stewart noted that this was better than other festivals). It was an interesting evening, during which we saw a number of trailers and clips from some of this year’s films, across the variety of festival strands (Gala, Competition, Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Treasures and Experimenta) and I found this particularly interesting for the smaller budget and foreign language films, areas I admit I am quite unfamiliar with.

With so many films across the strands (including a new short film award this year), there will be something for everyone and I urge you to have a look through the extensive festival brochure. Here though are the top 20 that I’m looking forward to seeing, whether I manage it during the festival or on general release later on.

  1. Suffragette

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No film at the event encompasses strong women more than the film which opens this year’s festival. Suffragette sees an impressive cast including Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham-Carter and Ben Whishaw bring the history of the fight of women for the vote in the early twentieth century. The trailer certainly looks great and Carey Mulligan could be seeing awards nominations in her future. The opening night’s screening will also be screened in select national cinemas, details of which are on the LFF website.

  1. He Named Me Malala

Malala Yousafzai

Another inclusion showcasing powerful women is this documentary about one of the most famous and incredible young women of our time – 17 year-old Malala Yousafzai, who after being shot in the head by the Taliban for championing girls’ education has gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and continue to be a role model around the world. Director [Davis] Guggenheim’s film looks to be an incredibly interesting record of her life so far.

  1. The Lady In The Van

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Anything with Dame Maggie Smith gets my vote and this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play (which she also starred in), based on the true story of the woman who parked her camper van on his drive and ended up remaining there for 15 years, looks wonderful. As well as Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings plays Bennett and as someone who has seen him in the role on stage, it’s sure to be a wonderful portrayal. Funny and touching, this looks to be a British gem.

  1. The Program

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Another topical inclusion is director Stephen Frears’s (previously at the festival with Philomena) The Program, which tells the story of Lance Armstrong’s fall from sporting icon to disgrace. Chris O’Dowd is the sports journalist David Walsh, who was determined to prove Armstrong’s cheating was a reality, while Ben Foster (looking vastly different from when I last saw him on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire) plays Armstrong. It looks both interesting and engaging, with some fantastic work capturing the power and energy of the sport.

  1. Black Mass

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I couldn’t fail to mention Black Mass, which sees Johnny Depp transformed in to the creepy Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, an infamous real life Irish gangster in Boston, who became an FBI informant to help them eliminate the Italian mob. With support from Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother, a political rising star and a screenplay written in part by Jez Butterworth (the man behind the incredible play Jerusalem), this looks to be a tense crime drama, giving Depp something a bit meatier to get his teeth in to. From the reviews coming out of Venice today, it sounds very promising indeed.

  1. Burn, Burn, Burn

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One from the “Laugh” strand of the festival which has caught my eye is this film starring Jack Farthing, Joe Dempsie, Laura Carmichael and Chloe Pirrie, in which Dan (Farthing) who has recently passed away gives his friends the final task of scattering his ashes in five disparate places around the country. Along the way he’ll accompany them via the video messages he has recorded, which from the trailer bring both laughter and poignancy. I love a good film about the power and importance of friendship, so I’ll certainly put this on my list.

  1. The Lobster

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A quirky addition to the Gala strand is this film by Yorgos Lanthimos with an all-star cast of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly. Set in the near future, singledom is banned and those not paired up must go to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find a mate. If not, they are transformed in to an animal of their choice (hence the title, the choice of Farrell’s character). It sounds bonkers (and the clip shown was indeed bizarre), but I’m intrigued by the possibility of mixing surreal humour and love with something that bit darker in tone. Plus anything with Mr. Whishaw cannot be missed in my opinion!

  1. Room

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I have been aware of the novel Room since it was released in 2010 but have yet to read it. Therefore this adaptation by Emma Donoghue of her own bestseller caught my eye in the brochure. The idea of a five year-old child spending their life since birth in an 11 foot room with just their mother (and the possible reasons as to why they remain there) sounds horrifying to me, even though little Jack does not have any awareness of the world outside his own. The story of this mother-son relationship, is one I expect to be incredibly powerful and will try to see.

  1. Office

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I had never heard of this film before the event this week, but it certainly intrigues me. Adapted from Taiwanese actress Sylvia Chang’s play Design For Living,  this Hong Kong film charts the corporate culture and glamourous lives of those working in the office in question in stylish, musical song and dance fashion, with a cast that includes Sylvia Chang herself. It sounds quite surreal, but I loved how the play Enron brought something fresh, inventive and creative to the story of corporate greed in today’s world and perhaps this Chines film could be equally as entertaining. I’ll be interested to see what the reaction to it is at the Toronto Film Festival later this month.

  1. Truth

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Cate Blanchett stars in two films at this year’s festival (the other being Carol), while also receiving the BFI Fellowship. Both movies look fantastic, but I’m more interested in seeing Truth, in which she plays Mary Mapes, producer of Dan Rather’s 60 minutes television show in America. The film focusses on the programme’s questioning of George W. Bush’s avoidance of the Vietnam draft and whether he received preferential treatment. With Robert Redford as Rather and also starring Elisabeth Moss, I’m hoping this proves to be an engaging and intelligent political drama.

  1. Brooklyn

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Nick Hornby adapts Colm Toibin’s best-selling novel, in which a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn (the wonderful Saoirse Ronan) faces the pain of choice – between her Irish homeland and a new life in America, as well as between two men from those different places. She’s a fantastic talent and with a brilliant cast including Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters (who looks fab as her Brooklyn landlady from the clip we saw on Wednesday night), I’m hoping this will be a stirring and moving film. For  fans of the TV show Arrow, I think I also spotted Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak) in the cast too, although I’ve no idea how big her role is.

  1. Steve Jobs

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Closing the festival (so almost certainly one I’ll have to watch on general release) is this film charting the life and success of a hugely iconic figure in today’s society – Steve Jobs. With direction from Danny Boyle, a screenplay by Aaron “West Wing” Sorkin and the hugely talented Michael Fassbender in the title role (together with support from Kate Winslet), I have high hopes for this movie and the trailer looks great too.

  1. High-Rise

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An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel, this film is according to the BFI’s festival brochure said to be a “brilliant satire of both 1960s social idealism and the Thatcherite values that undermined it.” Starring Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing, the film is set in a luxury high rise tower, in which everyone who lives there is cut off from the rest of society. No trailer has yet been released, but from the  clip we were shown (which saw Hiddleston shopping on the supermarket level and seeing a glamorous woman pass with her huge dog in her shopping trolley) this looks to be a surreal, but interesting film. The supporting cast includes  Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and James Purefoy.

  1. The Wave

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For fans of disaster thrill rides and Nordic/Scandi dramas, look no further than The Wave. Set in Norway, the film envisages what would happen today if a landfall in the fjords triggered a tsunami (as happened once before in 1934). It may scare me to death, but the visual effects looked impressive enough for me to give this a try. Plus the film has just been announced as Norway’s entrant for consideration for Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars.

  1. Youth

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This film by Italian writer and director Paolo Sorrentino, set largely in a luxury Swiss spa, stars Michael Caine as Fred, a retired composer and Harvey Keitel as Mick, an elderly film director looking for a comeback and centres around their friendship, while weaving various strands of narrative together. I don’t know too much about it yet, other than it stars Rachel Weisz as Fred’s daughter and Jane Fonda, but I love Michael Caine’s work and I’m hoping this will be a moving and funny addition to the festival. It has already competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will also be shown during this month’s Toronto Film Festival.

  1. Beast of No Nation

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This Netflix original film is currently receiving a positive response at the Venice Film Festival. By Carey Fukunaga’s (HBO’s True Detective) it is an exploration of child exploitation in an Africa country torn apart by civil unrest and atrocity stars the brilliant Idris Elba as The Commandant of a militia of rebel soldiers and newcomer Abraham Attah as the young boy Agu. I certainly don’t expect this to be an easy film to watch, but I’m sure it will prove to be extremely powerful and will see release globally on Netflix in October.

  1. Grandma

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Lily Tomlin stars as a foul-mothed poet, who ends up on a road trip through LA with her 18 year-old granddaughter after the death of her long term partner and her split from her recent much younger girlfriend. This film sounds extremely enjoyable and as Lily Tomlin is always a joy to watch (although she’ll always be The West Wing’s Deborah Fiderer to me!) I’m hoping for a few laughs and some cracking, sharp dialogue with this one. From watching the trailer I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed.

  1. Remember

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This drama starring Christopher Plummer, looks at the nature of evil, with Plummer as an elderly German Jew, already succumbing to Alzheimer’s, determined to keep the promise he made to a friend (played by Martin Landau) to find and kill the Nazi commandant who ordered the deaths of both their families. With such a great actor as Plummer and dealing with a subject that still sparks powerful, emotional reactions, I’m going to try and see this one.

  1. Sherlock Holmes

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One from the archives here, as the festival screens this recently discovered American silent film from 1916. Once thought lost, it is based on the popular 1899 play by William Gillette of the same name and also stars Gillette in the title role. Its significant to the Holmes world, as Gillette is viewed as contributing greatly to our image of Holmes and to the development of the character of Moriarty. This will no doubt appeal to fans of the famous detective from 221B Baker Street and it’s wonderful that such  films are still being discovered and restored for the pleasure of a whole new audience.

  1. Goosebumps

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One for the family here with the big screen arrival of the hugely successful book series by R L Stein that every generation of kids seems to know. Starring Jack Black, this film looks set to be a thrilling and entertaining outing for children and perhaps adults looking to relive a part of their childhoods.

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So those are my picks from the extensive offerings at this year’s festival. As you can see it’s a varied mix and I’ve barely touched so many of the strands. If you enjoy cinema, are looking to see an upcoming film a little earlier or are curious to delve in to some foreign films, then download the brochure (or pick up a hard copy) and start planning your festival schedule!

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7th – 18th October 2015. For full details about the programme visit the festival’s main website. Public booking opens on 17th September or you can consider becoming a member of the BFI.

Film Review – 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Of all the films included at this year’s London Film Festival there was one in particular I wanted to see and that was 12 Years A Slave – the cast, director and the impressive critical praise it received in Toronto had me setting my hopes extremely high for this film and I admit that I was worried I may be disappointed. I couldn’t have been more wrong – every superlative expressed in relation to 12 Years A Slave is deserved, as it is nothing short of sensational. However it is by no means easy to watch and it will stay with you for days due to its emotional intensity.

12 Years A Slave is based on the diary account of Solomon Northup, a free black musician in 19th century New York, who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold in to slavery. On the promise of lucrative work as a fiddler he travels with two men to Washington. There they eat, drink, celebrate and on feeling sick he is put to bed to rest – only to awaken in chains in a dark basement with no proof of who is. For the next 12 years he is Platt, a runaway slave from Georgia, who is passed from one master to the next, whilst desperately trying to stay alive long enough to find a way back to his wife and children.

This is an intensely powerful film from start to finish as we follow Solomon’s experience of life as a slave and director Steve McQueen (director of Hunger and Shame) presents a harrowing, honest, emotional exposure of slavery that has never been conveyed in such a way before. For a 21st century audience, seeing with how little regard human beings were treated in the not too distant past is frightening and truly heartbreaking, for example the cruel separation of a woman from her children for her to be told she’d soon forget them and the horrifying beatings and violence carried out by slave owners.

Through Solomon’s eyes we see a broad spectrum of slave ownership – his first master John Ford (wonderfully played by Benedict Cumberbatch) seems almost a reluctant owner. He needs slaves to work his plantation but he seems to do what he can to treat them honourably and he develops a respect for Solomon’s ideas for the land, much to the anger and jealousy of Paul Dano’s architect Tibeats and also gives him a violin on knowing of his talents. However, Solomon does not remain with Ford. His challenge to the authority of Tibeats results in an attempted lynching, which in one of the toughest scenes in the film has Solomon hanging from a branch, desperately trying to keep his feet on the floor whilst everyday plantation life carries on around him. McQueen’s brave decision to linger on this scene for so long, with little (or no) music delivers the scene like a punch to the chest. It is Ford’s need to protect Solomon from further harm that results in him being passed on to Edwin Epps (the terrific Michael Fassbender).

Epps is very different to Ford. Clearly a sadist, he enjoys punishing the slaves who work picking cotton on his plantation, never seen more clearly than in the most harrowing scene in the film, when a slave is whipped almost to death. What makes this scene all the more unbearable is that Epps forces Solomon to give the lashes until, dissatisfied with his efforts, he finishes the ordeal himself. The camera does not shy away from the realities of slavery here. We see every lash, hear it and witness the awful wounds caused. I had to look away several times as did most of the people around me.

Steve McQueen spoke after the screening of how such a significant part of world history has not been fully explored and that to him it was obvious that such a film should be made. He referred to the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the existence of a black President in America and the anniversaries relating to the abolition of slavery (2015 will see the 150th anniversary of its abolition), saying that it was the ideal time for such a story to be told. He also spoke of the fact that it was his wife who found Solomon’s published diary on which the film is based. Hans Zimmer’s score is very good too, balancing delicate moments with harsher ones and contains a strong use of metallic chain-like noises which links perfectly with the tone of the film and is quite unique.

It is however the extraordinary cast that bring Solomon’s story to vivid life before our eyes. The contrast between his slave owners is perfectly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender. Cumberbatch’s all too brief appearance is of the quality and standard we expect of this superb actor and it is a dramatic contrast to the character of Fassbender’s sadistic Epps. He plays Epps superbly, with a lurking malevolence, which makes him truly frightening – we know the violence he is capable of and that it could be unleashed on a whim at any moment. Epps’s wife (played by Sarah Paulson) is another shocking character – her clear hatred of one of the slave girls (newcomer Lupita Nyong’o) to whom her husband has taken an unfortunate liking is appalling and led to gasps from the audience at one particular moment.

Lupita herself is astonishing in her role, conveying the pain and anguish that her character Patsy feels. At one moment she begs Solomon to kill her to end her suffering and you cannot feel anything but sadness that this was the life people had to endure. Brad Pitt is also very good in his small but pivotal role, as a man against the inequality and cruelty of slavery and unafraid to say so to Epps and to do what is right.

However it is Chiwetel Ejiofor who is the centre of this film and his performance as Solomon is quite simply breathtaking and one of the finest performances you will ever see on screen. Through him we feel every beating and see just how strong the human spirit can be in the face of such terrible injustice and cruelty. I do not think I have ever felt as emotionally invested in a character in a film as his beautiful realisation of Solomon and I defy you not to be moved to tears by the final scenes of this story.

12 Years A Slave is certainly not an easy film to watch and is an intense exploration of, in Solomon’s words, “man’s inhumanity to man”. However it is a film and a period in history that very much needs to be given greater attention so that we never forget (in the same way as Schindler’s List makes us never forget the atrocities of war). Every element of this film is stunning – the script by John Ridley, the performances, direction and score and it reminded me how incredible a film can be. The screening received a standing ovation, something I’ve never experienced in a cinema, but which felt wholly appropriate for a film that delivers as strong an emotional punch as I’ve ever felt at the theatre and standing to applaud seemed absolutely right. It is the power and message of Solomon’s story that are important rather than any award, but in my opinion, no other films need be submitted for next year’s awards season. I have seen my Best Picture, Director and Actor (not to mention a number of incredible supporting roles) and I’m certain that anyone who sees the film will agree and I could not recommend it strongly enough.

12 Years A Slave is now on limited release in America but will not be released in the UK until January next year. I do however urge you to go and see it as soon as you are able and in the meantime the original diary of Solomon Northup can be purchased for as little as 77p (I’m reading it on my Kindle at the moment).

Watch the official trailer for the film here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUQNjfhlREk

Film Review – Parkland (2013)

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Last night I attended the UK premiere of Parkland at the London Film Festival. Written and directed by Peter Landesman and based on the writing of Vincent Bugliosi (in his 2007 book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F Kennedy and, in particular, the chapters of that book that became the later release Four Days In November), the film tells the story of one of the most momentous days in history – 22nd November 1963 and the assassination from the perspectives of ordinary individuals who found themselves caught up in unimaginable events.

The film takes its title from Parkland Memorial Hospital, the hospital to which both the President and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken and pronounced dead within hours of each other. Its style chooses to shine a light on a number of different character strands that are interwoven throughout the film and one key strand is indeed that which takes place at the hospital, where the same doctors and nurses attempted to save both men. Other strands focus on Abraham Zapruder, whose 8mm camera film would become one of the most scrutinised pieces of footage ever captured, as the only film to record the murder from beginning to end, the head of the Dallas secret service Forrest Sorrels, the FBI agent James Hosty, the secret service team and the family of Lee Harvey Oswald, in particular his older brother Robert.

Novelist and first time director Peter Landesman’s style for the film reflects his past as a journalist, as the film has a documentary style, with unsteady camera movements and the intercutting of actual footage from 1963, which gives the audience the perspective of someone present in the moment. The director indeed said in the Q&A after the screening that that was one of his reasons for working with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (who also worked on Captain Phillips), in order to give the film a feel of almost being in a war zone environment. It was also important to him and the producing team (Tom Hanks & Gary Goetzman) that the film was made only if it was factual – that everything included could be verified and confirmed. Therefore this is not a film that delves in any way in to the many conspiracy debates that still surround the assassination or adds artistic licence in the way Oliver Stone did with his film JFK. Instead it focuses on the smaller real life moments that are often overlooked when discussing these tragic events, for example, the lead nurse in the ER making sure Lee Harvey Oswald does not live or die in the same room that the President had been in just hours before or the practicalities of how to get the coffin on to Air Force One so that the President was not stored as if a piece of luggage.

I did find the film to be quite powerful, possibly due to the fact that it isn’t a glorified Hollywood movie and instead feels far more realistic, and it does contain some very moving moments. Paul Giamatti is (as usual) superb in the film, portraying a man whose name I knew but knew nothing more about. His portrayal of Abraham Zapruder is of a man who is utterly devastated by what he has witnessed and indeed is horrified that he has captured such a terrible event on camera. The shock he displays in the aftermath, as the secret service agents take him to have the film developed is very believable. I particularly liked the moment when the film is played and his grandchildren appear on screen in home movie footage. His apology to the impatient secret service for the delay is met with the touching response that it’s okay as this is his life and it looks like a nice one. You understand in that moment that Zapruder’s life has been altered in a way he will never be able to forget. You also understand that he is a man who is desperate to do the right thing but isn’t entirely sure what that is and his conflicted emotions as to what to do with the footage as the media offers flood in is well acted. The director explained at the screening that on the first day of the shoot they filmed Paul as Zapruder in Dealey Plaza in the actual location and that it was a very emotional experience for them all. Indeed the take in the film is apparently the first take as he let Paul do whatever came naturally in that emotional moment.

The other key individual for me was Robert Oswald, brilliantly portrayed by James Badge Dale. We see the character go through the shock of hearing of his brother’s arrest, to anger at trying to understand why he has done it, to frustration at his mother’s astonishing behaviour and reaction to events. This is certainly a person I knew nothing about and his performance felt very real and believable and I felt incredibly sorry for him and indeed the burial scene of Lee Harvey Oswald is very moving due to the focus on Robert. His desperate plea to watching press to help carry the coffin from the hearse to the grave in the absence of anyone else to help was very effective.

There are also some good performances from the President’s security team, who struggle to comprehend what has happened and what to do next. I particularly liked the moment when Tom Melling (of Smallville fame) refuses to allow anyone else to drive the hearse from the hospital to the waiting plane, his loyalty and attachment to the President clear. The scene that follows in which the secret service manhandles the coffin up the plane steps and through the door was quite an unpleasant and undignified moment. However it seems very realistic in its simplicity and felt true to the style of the film in highlighting moments that haven’t been given much thought before.

The hospital scenes are obviously very powerful due to the nature of the subject matte and there are strong performances from Zac Efron, Colin Hanks and Marcia Gay Harden as the doctors and lead nurse trying in vain to save the President when really they know it is too late. I would have liked to have seen more of the emotional impact on them outside the small emergency room in which most of their scenes occur. Billy Bob Thornton is also good as the head of the Dallas secret service.

This brings me to my main issue with the film. The performances of the ensemble cast are very good, there are some powerful moments and I liked the directorial style. However at 93 minutes long there isn’t sufficient time to give enough depth to a number of the characters included in the story. Ron Livingston for example plays James Hosty, the FBI agent who has been tracking Lee Harvey Oswald for 18 months prior to the killing and whose boss is full of anger that they did not predict what he was going to do and stop it. The FBI is very much side-lined in the film and it would have been nice to see more from Ron and this story strand, which felt very much unfinished. I agree somewhat with some views that this may have been better as a miniseries, able to delve in to the character strands far more deeply (which was indeed the initial plan by Hanks).

However, overall I thought this was an interesting film, which is effective in looking at such well known events from perspectives that may otherwise never have been considered more widely, albeit not with as much depth as I would have liked. It will certainly be a film that causes people to think about the tragedy in a new light.

Parkland opens in UK cinemas on 22 November 2013 (moved back from 8 November) to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination. It has already been released in America.

A link to the official trailer for the film is below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5-Bg7ZrGAg