Thursday, October 26, 2006

BOBBY – a love letter to the America that no longer exists

The BOBBY of the title is Senator Robert Kennedy, the 1968 Democratic presidential candidate who was assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Before the London film fest screening, writer-director (and for a whole generation, Young Gun) Emilio Estevez declared that BOBBY was his love letter to America. He noted that in test screenings in Europe, people told him that the movie reminded them of what they used to admire in America and how much we miss that America. He declared that “he misses it too.” The America he misses is the America that Kennedy referred to: the America of compassion and civil liberty – of redistributive social policies, the rule of law, environmental concern and peace. It is the America that embraces the poor and the ethnic minorities.

The main thing to say about BOBBY is that it is not an old-style Oliver-Stone-political thriller. Estevez does not spend his time delving into the murky under-world of big business, politics, spies and conspiracies. Indeed, we are never told who shot Bobby or why. Estevez is far more ambitious than that. What he is attempting to do is express the hopes and fears of liberal America in 1968 as his camera wanders round the Ambassador Hotel and homes in on different characters.

We have a young high-school graduate (
Lindsay Lohan) who is marrying her class-mate (Elijah Wood) to keep him from being posted to Vietnam. We have the widowed ex-hotel manager (Anthony Hopkins) who lingers in the lobby because he has no home to go to, playing games of chess with his best friend – an African-American (Harry Belafonte.) We have the current hotel manager (William H Macy) who is cheating on his wife (Sharon Stone) with the operator (Heather Graham). We have the drunk lounge singer (Demi Moore) who is frightened at getting old commiserating with the hair-dresser (Stone). We have a sweet rich couple (Helen Hunt and Martin Sheen) re-discovering their love for each other. And in the kitchens, Christian Slater’s racist manager is making Freddie Rodriguez work a double shift and miss his baseball game. And finally, to leaven this mix of good people struggling through, we have a couple of campaign staff dropping acid with Ashton Kutcher’s hippie. This is a judicious piece of writing – at once showing the counter-culture of 1968 but also giving us some laughs amidst the pious politics.

As you can see from that little summary this movie is stuffed full of big name stars and none of them disappoint. Sharon Stone and Demi Moore in particular give nuanced performances and their scene together is the heart of the movie. In addition to being beautifully written and acted, the period costume design is also superb. I also want to draw attention to the brilliant directorial decision not to cast an actor as Bobby Kennedy but to let archive footage and selective framing take his place. The blending of the two is seamless.

My quibbles are minor. First, on occasion the movie straddles the fine line between the emotional and schmaltzy. And while
Laurence Fishburne acts all bar Stone and Moore off the screen, his wise old man routine is a little grating to my cynical English ears. My only other quibble is in Estevez’ presumption that the audience is American. Estevez betrays this presumption in the opening titles, when he speaks of the hope that Bobby Kennedy brought to “our” country. This is a little alienating for European audiences,

For all that, BOBBY remains an astutely judged directorial effort for Estevez.

BOBBY played Venice, Toronto and London 2006. It opens in the US on November 17th 2006. It opens in Belgium and France in January 2007, the Netherlands in February 2007, Spain in March and Japan in May.


  1. After reading your post "Umrao Jaan", I thought I was reading "Bobby" of Raj Kapoor! I understood you are telling here about a nice Holly movie.


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