"...studded with newsreel footage that is immediate and raw."
It’s hard to realize that for people under 40, “Bobby” is history. For anyone who believed in Robert Kennedy’s candidacy and in the man who had begun to develop after his brother’s assassination, the movie is especially raw. It is studded with newsreel footage that is immediate and powerful.
These clips remind us that 1968 was a year of American chaos. Martin Luther King had been shot; draft protests were in full swing, and Kennedy was demanding that Lyndon Johnson bring the soldiers home from Vietnam. An angry populace was building to a full throated roar against Lyndon Johnson’s commitment to stay in Vietnam. And there, of course, is the parallel to Iraq. Emilio Estevez, an admirer of Robert Kennedy, has made a film that resonates today, and he makes the most of it. The documentary sections of the film are strong and emotional.
Where Estevez slips is in the soap operas he builds around a group of Ambassador Hotel guests who will be wounded by Sirhan Sirhan’s stray bullets later that night. Helen Hunt and Martin Sheen are a married couple trying to appreciate what they have. A switchboard operator is having an affair with the hotel manager. The hotel manager is married to the hairdresser who dresses the hair of the drunken singer. The fictional roles are not compelling, and they have the unfortunate effect of trivializing the actual events that take place that night in the hotel kitchen. The fact that these roles are played by celebrities Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, and Harry Belafonte further diminishes the harrowing impact of the evening that began in celebration of the California primary win and ended in the grisly sight of Kennedy lying, bloodied, on the kitchen floor.
All the actors try to do well by the soapy stories, but only one seems authentic – a young Mexican kitchen worker who will end up kneeling next to Kennedy after the shooting. Freddy Rodriguez creates a vibrant young man, a hard worker who that night wishes only that he could take his father to the Dodgers baseball game and ends up instead trying to comfort a dying man.
It is the last third of the film that leaves the audience in silence and disbelief that nearly four decades later we are repeating our mistakes of 1968. Remember John Foster Dulles saying that if we didn’t go into Vietnam, the dominoes would fall and the U.S. would lose all of Asia? Estevez pours his heart into the final scenes, building the suspense to what we dread in powerful documentary scenes. There is surely no power like that of newsreel footage, and Emilio Estevez might have made an even finer tribute if he had made a straight documentary.
Whatever you feel about this, you may agree with many in the preview audience that America’s record of shooting its presidents and public figures is abysmal.
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