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Bobby represents this year’s most difficult film to view with an entirely open mind. The reason is of course, the eclectic and impressively star studded cast. On one hand, the amount of star power could distract you from appropriately feeling the adequate level of emotional impact. One the other hand, that same amount of star power might cause you to immediately love the film no matter how it turns out. I have heard mixed opinions about Emilio Estevez’s newest directorial offering. Occasionally, it is impossible to ignore the commercials and newspapers which advertise star ratings and quotes. If I can manage it, I separate myself from a situation in which I hear another person's thoughts. Bobby is a mild success because of the sheer brilliance of the conclusion. It is so devastatingly poignant, so poetically beautiful, and so masterfully unified that the easily noticeable flaws do not seem so significant.
The day was June 6, 1948, and Robert F. Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Primary over Senator McCarthy. He was prepared to go head to head with Richard Nixon for the Presidential race in November, but that never happened. That day, Robert Kennedy was giving a victory speech at his campaign headquarters, located at the Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles. When he finished his speech, he proceeded to walk into the kitchen in the middle of a massive crowd. Suddenly a 24-year-old Palestinian, named Sirhan Sirhan, shot him multiple times. The man who very well might have been the next President of the United States, and a symbol of change in America, died 26 hours later. This story revolves around 22 people who were also present at the hotel the night he was gunned down.
It would take awhile to explain every sub-plot and every minute performance, so I’ll just insert comments of those that impressed me the most, and work my way through. Freddy Rodriguez is a dishwasher at the hotel that is angry because he will miss a Dodgers game with his father. Rodriguez proves to have limitless potential as an actor with this profound display. He gives the tickets to the chef, played by Laurence Fishburne, who never disappoints. Demi Moore is an aging drunken singer, whose marriage to Emilio Estevez is on the verge of collapse. If nothing else, this film shows that Estevez is still a fabulous actor. William H. Macy is the hotel manager, and he is married to Sharon Stone, who works as the head stylist. Macy is having an affair with a switchboard operator, portrayed by the gorgeous Heather Graham. Macy is among that group who are the most consistently compelling, yet under appreciated performers in Hollywood, and that stability persists in Bobby. As a whole, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore did not overly move or shake on screen, but the scene they execute together is incredibly intense and mesmerizing.
Christian Slater is the Food and Beverage Manager, who has just been fired by Macy because of his mistreatment of Hispanics. Slater possesses one of countless supporting roles, but he has not been this stirring in many years. Helen Hunt is married to Martin Sheen. Their relationship struggles due to Sheen’s depression. Ashton Kutcher, Shia LeBeouf, and Brian Geraghty contribute one of the most bizarre drug sequences in cinema. Kutcher is a dope dealer that introduces them to LSD. All in all, Geraghty and LeBeouf make a humorous, yet intriguing pair of campaign helpers. Lindsay Lohan is planning to wed Elijah Wood, in order to prevent him from being shipped to Vietnam. I found this to be my favorite storyline as both Wood and Lohan lend gripping work. Finally, Anthony Hopkins is the old hotel doorman, who is playing his regular game of chess with Harry Belafonte. Surprisingly, this was the worst sub-plot. Hopkins is no doubt a legend, but watching these two carry a conversation over chess was quite dull.
The directing resume of Emilio Estevez is not filled with awards and nominations, but Bobby at least expresses his heart, determination, and concern as a filmmaker. The structure is a mess at times, and even though it is not as organized as any Altman pictures, or other hyperlink styles in film, it still holds its own eloquent identity. Estevez is said to have had a horrible case of writer's block when trying to complete this script. It took him seven years to finalize. He should be grateful that his brother Charlie Sheen convinced him to finish, because the resulting screenplay is quite magnificent in almost every way. Not one character takes a lead part (except for RFK), but each person has moments that are indelible, and momentous. I do not agree with anyone who states that Estevez was striving for a grand epic on the scale of Titanic. True, the cast is nothing but mainstream names, but it should be obvious that most of these folks have connections to the director. I believe they enjoyed the script because of the subject matter, and further wanted to supply parts because of who was behind the camera.
A couple scenes were filmed in the remaining wing of the Ambassador Hotel, which was all but demolished during filming, but the areas that were recreated were done so with such fascinating accuracy and attention to detail. If you spot any flaws between the staged set, and footage of Kennedy’s last speech, you’re nuts. In addition, the soundtrack was impeccably selected, especially the track “Never Gonna Break My Faith”, performed by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige.
The title deserves some discussion. It is the only other problem I had with the film. The majority of people all over the world know of this man as Robert Kennedy, but the title of this movie is Bobby, and I felt that we should have gotten to know him as “Bobby” a bit more. I must also say that it was wonderful that the story primarily touched on his importance to others, but I wanted to experience the man behind the podium. The decision to only show RFK through historical speeches, and/or from the back was shrewd, but exposing some private thoughts of RFK from someone would not have overstuffed the running time in my opinion. It would have made it stronger.
All of these storylines intertwine deftly with sporadic shots of television appearances by RFK. He was wisely not cast in the film, and instead the utilization of real footage meshed brilliantly with the staged performances. Even after Good Night, and Good Luck, Syriana, and Nashville, Bobby’s passionate and honorable message has so much significance in today’s world. The meaning presented here speaks to every generation, every race, and every sex. We will never know what the world may have been like had RFK lived on, but it most certainly makes us think long and hard about it. RFK was the last shred of optimism for many during that time period, and Bobby marks a fitting tribute to his desire, his legacy, and his ambition.
There was a time in recent history when young people had leaders that they could look up to and who inspired them to think of politics as a potentially noble profession. Emilio Estevez film Bobby reminds us of one such man, Bobby Kennedy, who, with all his warts and contradictions, became the spokesman for a generation in revolt, and whose assassination left a gaping hole in our collective soul that has not been filled. Although many idealists supported Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy for President in 1968 because they felt that he came without the burdens of machine politics and a political dynasty that could be ruthless and self serving, most came to admire Bobby Kennedy for having the strength to learn from his mistakes and for his willingness to become the focus of a nation’s longing for greatness.
Bobby tells the fictionalized stories of 22 people who gathered at the Ambassador Hotel Ballroom on June 4, 1968, the night Kennedy was shot in the pantry after winning the Democratic primary and concluding his acceptance speech to a cheering crowd. Shown only through newsreel clips taken from his campaign for the presidency, we see only the Bobby that stirred the nation with his progressive speeches not the man who lent support to the FBI in wiretapping Dr. Martin Luther King, or the man who supported the CIA in its reckless assassination attempts on the life of Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. The film is unabashedly dedicated to celebrating Bobby’s memory and contrasting what he stood for with the emptiness of our present leaders.
Estevez has assembled an outstanding ensemble cast including William H. Macy as the Hotel Manager married to hairdresser Miriam (Sharon Stone) but having a clandestine affair with switchboard operator Angela (Heather Graham); Anthony Hopkins as John Casey, a retired doorman who engages his friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte) in chess and nostalgia; Freddy Rodriguez as Jose, a Mexican-American kitchen worker who is assigned to work a double shift and who gives his baseball tickets to Chef Laurence Fishburne as a gesture of racial harmony; Christian Slater as a racist kitchen manager who refuses to give his Latino employees time off to vote.
Other engaging performances include Nick Cannon as an ambitious Kennedy worker, Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt as a contentious married couple, Elijah Wood and Lindsay Lohan as a couple waiting to be married so that he can avoid service in Vietnam, and there are many other (perhaps too many) subplots. In the silliest of the plots, two campaign workers try LSD provided by overwrought hippie drug dispenser Ashton Kutcher. While the mini-dramas sometimes become “soap-opera’ish”, at the end we realize the point being made - that all the little stories of our life are just “stuff” compared to the overall arc of history that we are participants in.
The main character of course is the one who could not be present, the one who was scheduled to be the heir apparent but was ruthlessly cut down by a murder that was neither random nor senseless but a frontal attack on our democracy and its citizens, passionately committed to a better society. While Bobby may be lacking in the finer points of cinema, it more than makes up for its shortcomings with its heart. As an accurate reflection of Kennedy’s total persona and of the political and social scene during the sixties, the film falls short, but as a well directed, star-studded package that can entertain as well as inform the current generation about a politician who, like Adlai Stevenson fifteen years earlier, spoke to the people as if they were old enough to vote, Bobby shines brightly.