Release Date: November 23, 2006
I was a generation too late to experience the overwhelming popularity and immensely saddening death of Robert Kennedy. But even though being an 80s child forced me to miss out on this time in history, a 120 minute film written and directed by Emilio Estevez has taken me back to that time and given me an overwhelming vision of the man they called Bobby, and the legacy that he left behind.
The film, Bobby, does not just attempt to tell the story of his death, it brings forward some of the most impactful things about his life. At the center of this story is a message of hope, and it is visualized through the eyes of those people who were present on that fateful night at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. As if channeling Paul Haggis’ concept from last year’s Best Picture winner Crash, Estevez’s film sets up by showing the stories of 22 people who were present on that day. Then as the film develops, we watch each of these separate storylines converge as part of this much larger tragedy. Therein lies the initial brilliance of the film.
Within these story lines are some strong performances by a cast that is, to say the least, star studded. It plays into the new adage that if you throw a bunch of good actors in together then you get a very good movie, but it is superior execution by both director and cast that sets Bobby apart. Most notable of these performances are those of long time supporting actor William H. Macy as the manager of the Ambassador and young Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) who plays a bus boy who ends up front and center during the assassination. The story lines around these two men are the stand outs, keeping the story moving toward its inevitable end. Other actors, including Anthony Hopkins, Martin Sheen, and Joshua Jackson are well cast in their roles, giving the film its authenticity. Even Ashton Kutcher, playing a hippy drug dealer holed up in one of the hotel’s suites fails at his usual game of ruining a movie by “over doing it.” For that, the director should be commended.
Adding some intrigue is the way the film’s setup has such relevance to today’s politics. From hanging “chads” on ballots to an unpopular war that has made the nation uneasy, the director does a great job of pointing out how closely related that time in history was to our own. The only difference is that in this film, during this time in America, there was a great hero. And though Estevez chooses never to show an actor’s face as Bobby Kennedy, he does show the spirit of what he meant to the nation by mixing in archival footage and voiceovers. In a very tactful way, Estevez shows that in the lives of the American people, even if things were seemingly crashing down around them with racial tension and the war in Vietnam, there was still hope.
That hope is what drives the emotional buildup to the tragic ending of the film. And even though you know how the film is going to end, it still hits you with a wave of emotion. All of that hope, hope created by a man who wanted to do right by America, hope that was lost in a pool of blood on the floor of the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel. To say that this is a movie about a man is selling it short, it is truly a movie about hope. It is a movie that, even in a year when we saw films about the most tragic event of my generation, is the most powerful film that I have seen thus far. It is a movie that shows how much Bobby Kennedy meant to America, he saw wrong and tried to right it, he saw suffering and tried to heal it, and he saw war and tried to stop it.