Bobby (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for brief strong violence, drug use, some nudity, and language
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Freddy Rodriguez, William H. Macy, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Jacob Vargas, Martin Sheen, Elijah Wood, Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Lohan, Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Shia LaBeouf, Brian Geraghty, Svetlana Metkina, Emilio Estevez, Heather Graham, Joy Bryant, Helen Hunt, Harry Belafonte, Ashton Kutcher. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Krumholtz
Director: Emilio Estevez
Screenplay: Emilio Estevez
Review published November 30, 2006
Bobby is the brainchild of actor Emilio Estevez (Another Stakeout, Loaded Weapon 1), a fits-and-starts project seven years in the making. It's his third feature film as a writer-director, with his previous efforts not very successful (Wisdom, Men at Work), but Estevez had a passion to make the film, and with a good deal of monetary sacrifice, he should get some credit for getting the film made with a very fine ensemble of actors. One would gather that many strings needed to be pulled to get the film made, and Estevez probably didn't miss pulling any one of them. This is one of the most impressive $10 million budget films you'll ever see these days.
Normally, the title of a film is superfluous to the overall piece, but in the case of Bobby, it proves to be a distraction. This is not a biography of Senator Robert F. Kennedy's life, nor is it really about the events leading up to his death, although his assassination does provide the climax of the film. Rather, the bulk of the film is comprised of fictional stories that take place among many hotel guests and employees of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where Bobby Kennedy was to make his acceptance speech for winning the 1968 Democratic primary. While one could work hard to contrive a thematic tie-in to the life of Kennedy, it's still misleading to refer to the film as Bobby, when the story so clearly is mostly about people and events tangential to the Senator's appearance.
Bobby is more about capturing a state of mind about the mood and pulse of the United States on the day of Robert Kennedy's death, using the multi-character ensemble cast as a microcosm of the more important issues of the day. Vietnam, LSD, immigration, fear of communism, voting rights, poverty, and racial equality -- these were the hot button issues of the campaign, and they all get stitched in to the overall stories in some form or fashion to show just what Kennedy's nomination meant to the futures of many of the main characters. However, not all of the stories and characters are really about Kennedy. Alcoholism, infidelity, Don Drysdale's shutout streak, retirement, and a host of other issues are constantly brought to the forefront, and while each of these facets is interesting in and of themselves, they aren't really important to a film that bears Bobby Kennedy's name on it.
The curious thing about Bobby is that it works as a film, with solid characterizations, interesting stories, and some very good acting by anyone not named Ashton Kutcher. It actually is a riveting film at times, with moments of surprising poignancy and intelligence, and character interactions that are worthy of being diverted by. This brings about a dilemma for a movie reviewer like myself, as I did enjoy Bobby as a piece of speculative entertainment, while also frustrated by the fact that all of it seems to not quite fit into a comfortable thematic piece about the life and death of Robert F. Kennedy.
In the end, I am going to go with my gut instinct about the film and judge it not by the title or lack of thematic focus, and give Estevez his due in making a compelling film about a plethora of interesting issues, with tie-ins to events that effectively contrast to the state of today's world. Perhaps in the hands of a Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson, Bobby might have gelled into something of a masterwork, but while Estevez falls short of hitting the bull's-eye, he at least hits the target with enough consistency to deliver a solid ensemble piece that raises interesting points about the late 1960s, with an eye toward today's similar situations.
Kennedy once said, "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly". Estevez may not achieve greatness with Bobby, but the fact that he dared complete failure in order to strive for it is the most commendable effort in a film full of many successes and excesses.
©2006 Vince Leo