The point of “Bobby” is not to dissect Robert F. Kennedy’s life but to suggest what America lost when he died. To a lot of people, he was the last great hope for the Democratic Party and for America. His death early in the morning of June 6, 1968, 24 hours after he was shot, was a crushing blow. He was on his way to becoming the Democratic candidate for the presidency and likely would have beaten Richard Nixon in November. What if he had lived? How would America be different now?
That’s my best guess as to the film’s message. I arrived at it later, not during the screening. During the film itself, my thoughts were more along the lines of: This is nice and all, but what’s the POINT?
This is a movie written and directed by Emilio Estevez, and I think it’s safe to say that no one on earth thought he had this level of seriousness, depth, and maturity in him. I marvel at the cast he managed to assemble, too: Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Heather Graham, Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy, Christian Slater, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Joshua Jackson, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, and Demi Moore. Oh, and Martin Sheen, but getting your dad to be in your movie isn’t very impressive.
It begins like a disaster movie. Many disparate characters are introduced, all sharing a geographical bond (they’re guests or employees at the Ambassador Hotel) but otherwise having no connection to each other. We learn their stories and see what their lives are like. They know it’s a big day — it’s the Democratic Presidential primary in California, and Kennedy’s campaign is headquartered at the Ambassador — but they don’t know just how big it’s going to get.
It’s almost staggering how many stories there are in this sprawling cast. Hopkins and Belafonte are a retired (but still present) doorman and his friend who sit around playing chess and reminiscing. Fishburne is the hotel chef, sagely dispensing advice to his co-workers and engaging in edgy, playful jibes with the Mexican dishwashers and waiters, fending off the blatant racism from the food-services manager (Slater). Graham is a switchboard operator who’s having an affair with the hotel manager (Macy), whose wife (Stone) is a cosmetologist in the hotel’s beauty parlor, where the hotel’s boozy nightclub singer (Moore) comes for her daily touch-up. Lohan plays a young woman about to marry a boy she hardly knows (Wood) in order to keep him out of Vietnam.
Estevez (who plays the nightclub singer’s husband) mostly films these people in and around the hotel with a Steadicam, floating down hallways and through conversations unobtrusively, like a very smooth you-are-there documentary. You get the sense of simply wandering through the hotel, eavesdropping on mini-dramas and getting to know this small cross-section of California in 1968.
The characters are fictional but their hopes and dreams are real enough, and every role is well-acted, even by lightweights like Lohan and Kutcher. (The latter plays a drug dealer who peddles to a couple of young Kennedy campaign volunteers, played amusingly by Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty.)
Estevez very astutely uses news footage at the beginning of the film to remind us of the turmoil America was in at the time, and footage of the real Bobby Kennedy’s final speech at the end of the film to suggest what a charismatic, idealistic candidate he was. You can see why people were excited about him, and why his death was so devastating. What it has to do with the fictional characters who populate the film, that’s not quite as clear.
B- (2 hrs.; )