“The once and future King”
Bobby opens with a scrolling text that makes Robert Francis Kennedy out to be a golden god, the only man who could have set America down the right path. It’s laughable in its propagandistic shouting from the rooftops.
The story of Bobby has always been more the tale of its creation – Emilio Estevez was advised by Charlie Sheen to keep on writing after he hit a wall, and people kept on cropping up who were connected to the day that Kennedy was shot – than of its actual cinematic qualities. In interviews, Estevez truly did believe that Kennedy could have brought about the perfect America. It’s almost scary.
Fortunately, it rises above its limitations in its actual execution. There’s far too much in the way of “meaningful speeches”, as Estevez is not near the orator that Kennedy clearly was, but it becomes a movie about people connected to an event and actually lets the audience make up their own minds about Kennedy through Kennedy’s own words.
Bobby follows several people who were in the Ambassador Hotel on the day that Robert F Kennedy was shot. Some of the stories don’t travel very far, being only tangentially related to the characters involved in the events of the evening.
The “gimmick” of Bobby, if you can call it that, is that it’s full of name actors: Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Anthony Hopkins, an almost unrecognisable Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, William H. Macy, Christian Slater, Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood, amongst several others. This is a trick to get people to see a movie that they may not otherwise have touched. I’m not certain if anyone in the cinema was actually shocked when Kennedy was shot (I’m inclined to hope not), but the audience struck me as not your typical type for this movie.
The actors performed their own trick of performing to scale, which is probably something that they wouldn’t want to make a habit of due to the simple fact that if they were caught working for a certain price they may not be able to justify their multi-million dollar fees for other movies. This is a small movie on a low budget that manages to pretend that it’s huge and glossy through the simple act of good will. This is part of the Bobby legend perpetuated by the media but it is certainly for the best in getting the message across.
This is far from an extremely polished movie, with many of the anti-Vietnam sentiments making perfect sense but seeming somewhat shoehorned in.
“I don’t want to go to Vietnam, man!” says one of the blatantly stoned campaign workers, about to come down. The Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood storyline is entirely about getting married to avoid service on the frontlines, and Lohan is occasionally reduced to making statements about wanting to marry everyone so that they don’t have to go to war, but she’s also capable of showing vulnerability and care in this role. It’s almost as if sometimes Lohan remembers that she’s a legitimate actress, shows up to do her job, and does it well. While Bobby is far from a microcosm of the film business, it does show that the external bugbears of the business can be beaten.
On another hand Laurence Fishburne’s character, squaring off against Miguel, is too much of a stab at race relations; Estevez allows Fishburne to give many allegedly encouraging speeches that read too much like down home truths. It would be a lie to say that the movie doesn’t frequently detour into mawkish sentimentality before taking a brief detour into a quite funny drug-trip (proving that the funniest jokes about drugs are made by those who aren’t on them at the time of writing). Yet it works despite that, because it effectively carries its ensemble through all of their dialogue to the story’s inevitable conclusion.
Estevez’ most genius move is to allow Kennedy to eulogise himself. For what it’s worth, I liked the vision that RFK had for America and would dearly have liked to see it achieved. By presenting an intimate portrait of a man simply through the eyes of those who respected and admired him, we are allowed to see what Kennedy represented.
In its final scene, Kennedy unites the cast to make us understand precisely why the movie was made. Suddenly, at that moment, everything that made people care for Robert F Kennedy has been conferred to the characters that surround him. It is in these dying moments, of both the film and of Kennedy himself that everything is clear; it can’t make the movie as a whole perfect, but it can give it a perfect send off.