April 19, 2007
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Christian Slater, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen,
Bobby (2006) is Emilio Estevez’s comeback from obscurity with an earnest look back at the fateful night Presidential-hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968. Instead of focusing on the man, Estevez creates a mosaic of characters and shows how the events of the day impacted their lives. Kennedy does appear in the film but mostly in the form of archival footage much like Senator Joseph McCarthy in Good Night, and Good Luck (2004). It makes sense because what actor today could do the man justice?
Jose (Rodriguez) is a Mexican immigrant working a double shift as a busboy in the hotel kitchen. John (Hopkins) is the now retired veteran doorman who worked for the hotel from its inception and still haunts the place, telling stories about the celebrities he’s greeted over the years. Timmons (Slater) is the food and beverage manager trying to keep a tight lid on his staff on this busy night only to be given a week’s notice by his boss (Macy). Miriam (Stone) works in the beauty salon and gives a young bride-to-be (Lohan) a pedicure before her wedding to a young man (Wood) trying to dodge the draft. These are only a few of the many characters that populate this film as Estevez mixes them all up in a Robert Altman-esque stew. To his credit, he has assembled an eclectic cast of actors, some of whom have been out of the mainstream consciousness for a few years (Helen Hunt and Demi Moore), some young, up-and-comers (Freddy Rodriguez and Shia LaBeouf) and established veterans (Anthony Hopkins and Martin Sheen). The one glaring bit of miscasting is a hammy Ashton Kutcher as a spaced out hippie who sells LSD to two young Kennedy campaigners.
Estevez establishes the social and political climate early on with a montage of actual historical footage which also sets the idealistic, nostalgic tone. He draws some strong parallels between 1968 and now by showing how the United States was (and is now) embroiled in an unpopular war in a country far away by a government clearly out of touch with its people. His large cast of characters cross the spectrum of class and race, from a lowly Mexican busboy to the husband of a woman singing in the hotel that night. Some are angry about their lot in life and want things to change while others are more hopeful and believe that Kennedy can make a difference.
The film makes a very definite point via archival footage of Kennedy speaking that, like back then, we need to fix the problems in our own country before we can fix the problems in others. However, like in ’68, the existing government doesn’t want to do this because it isn’t in their best interest – they’re too busy making money in foreign wars. Estevez clearly wears his political beliefs on his sleeve but we need these kinds of socially and politically conscious films, especially since Oliver Stone was defanged and stopped making his own unique brand of agitprop. It’s just a shame that Estevez wasn’t more forceful like Stone used to be. That being said, he shows great leaps and bounds as a storyteller and skill as a director since the heady days of Wisdom (1986) and Men at Work (1990). He even has a small role as a long-suffering husband to a boozy, has-been lounge singer (Moore).
In these cynical and jaded times, it is nice to see a film like Bobby get made. Sadly, even with a star-studded cast it still didn’t get better distribution and it needs to because its message is relevant now more than ever. Bobby yearns for the same kind of civil rights movement that helped affect change in the 1960s to rise again today. We need films like this because they are a reminder of how the average person can make a difference. Let’s hope it enjoys a second life on home video.
“Bobby: The Making of an American Epic” is a making of featurette. Estevez met Robert Kennedy when he was a small child and was always fascinated by that fateful day. He wondered who some of the people in the pantry were when the senator was shot. This film is clearly a labour of love for Estevez as evident in the passion he conveys in this extra and this is also apparent in the cast and crew who all speak admiringly of the project and not in the usual, superficial way that you see in most featurettes of this kind.
“Eyewitness Accounts from the Ambassador Hotel” is a panel discussion with four people who were in the hotel the night that Kennedy was killed with one of them even wounded by one of the bullets. They speak about what they were doing there and share some of their experiences.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.