Directed by Emilio Estevez. 2006.

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There was a time in recent history when young people had leaders that they could look up to and who inspired them to think of politics as a potentially noble profession. Emilio Estevez film Bobby reminds us of one such man, Bobby Kennedy, who, with all his warts and contradictions, became the spokesman for a generation in revolt, and whose assassination left a gaping hole in our collective soul that has not been filled. Although many idealists supported Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy for President in 1968 because they felt that he came without the burdens of machine politics and a political dynasty that could be ruthless and self serving, most came to admire Bobby Kennedy for having the strength to learn from his mistakes and for his willingness to become the focus of a nation’s longing for greatness. 

Bobby tells the fictionalized stories of 22 people who gathered at the Ambassador Hotel Ballroom on June 4, 1968, the night Kennedy was shot in the pantry after winning the Democratic primary and concluding his acceptance speech to a cheering crowd. Shown only through newsreel clips taken from his campaign for the presidency, we see only the Bobby that stirred the nation with his progressive speeches not the man who lent support to the FBI in wiretapping Dr. Martin Luther King, or the man who supported the CIA in its reckless assassination attempts on the life of Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. The film is unabashedly dedicated to celebrating Bobby’s memory and contrasting what he stood for with the emptiness of our present leaders.  

Estevez has assembled an outstanding ensemble cast including William H. Macy as the Hotel Manager married to hairdresser Miriam (Sharon Stone) but having a clandestine affair with switchboard operator Angela (Heather Graham); Anthony Hopkins as John Casey, a retired doorman who engages his friend Nelson (Harry Belafonte) in chess and nostalgia; Freddy Rodriguez as Jose, a Mexican-American kitchen worker who is assigned to work a double shift and who gives his baseball tickets to Chef Laurence Fishburne as a gesture of racial harmony; Christian Slater as a racist kitchen manager who refuses to give his Latino employees time off to vote. 

Other engaging performances include Nick Cannon as an ambitious Kennedy worker, Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt as a contentious married couple, Elijah Wood and Lindsay Lohan as a couple waiting to be married so that he can avoid service in Vietnam, and there are many other (perhaps too many) subplots. In the silliest of the plots, two campaign workers try LSD provided by overwrought hippie drug dispenser Ashton Kutcher. While the mini-dramas sometimes become “soap-opera’ish”, at the end we realize the point being made - that all the little stories of our life are just “stuff” compared to the overall arc of history that we are participants in.  

The main character of course is the one who could not be present, the one who was scheduled to be the heir apparent but was ruthlessly cut down by a murder that was neither random nor senseless but a frontal attack on our democracy and its citizens, passionately committed to a better society. While Bobby may be lacking in the finer points of cinema, it more than makes up for its shortcomings with its heart. As an accurate reflection of Kennedy’s total persona and of the political and social scene during the sixties, the film falls short, but as a well directed, star-studded package that can entertain as well as inform the current generation about a politician who, like Adlai Stevenson fifteen years earlier, spoke to the people as if they were old enough to vote, Bobby shines brightly. 


Howard Schumann
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