Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bobby


I have read several horrible reviews of Bobby and have wondered if I am just so engrossed in the Kennedys that I missed it and went into the film blind and came out blind to its faults and shortcomings, but after three viewings and a great deal of contemplation, I just can't put into words how highly I recommend this film.
The greatest films are made by men and women who have a deep interest in a particular subject, event, or tragedy. Never is this more true than with Emilio Estevez. As both writer and director he has created biopic worthy of notice.
Kennedy movies are either fantastic or mediocre. The key to creating a great Kennedy flick is to not overestimate, over dramatize, or aggrandize the Kennedy. There are limits to how far the Kennedy myth can be stretched. The greatest films have involved and centered on the talents of Martin Sheen or Kevin Costner--but those are JFK films, not RFK.
Bobby opens with real footage of Robert F. Kennedy. This element of the film in addition to numerous sections that have an audio overlay of a Bobby Kennedy's speeches lend to it's brilliance. I began with chills and when I left the theater I had chills.
The film follows several characters within the Ambassador Hotel the day and night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Each of the characters bring to the screen a broader picture of America in the 60s. Their stories are not irrelevant as some reviews have said, but illustrate the issues prevalent in 1968--Vietnam, civil rights, and women's rights. The characters are outstanding and the talent behind them deserves mentioning.
At the helm of a stellar ensemble cast, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a minor role as a retired doorman who practically lives at the Ambassador and has greeted a laundry list of leaders and dignitaries. His sidekick, if you will, is played by Harry Belafonte. Casey and Nelson bring to the screen an element that is in itself a beautifully written friendship. And they play chess. Every minute of every day they are playing chess--that wonderful game that President Kennedy once compared politics to. Casey plays chess with several characters and one of my favorite quotes from the film came about during a philosophical discussion carried on during a match: "I think chess is a lot like life--it scares people, it intimidates them. That's why they invented chess...and you're still in checkmate."
Time does not allow an in-depth discussion of the entire cast as there are so many. I was particularly struck by the story line involving Lindsey Lohan and Elijah Wood. I've never liked Lohan until this film. She plays a young woman who agrees to marry a classmate in effort to keep him out of Vietnam. It is a truly heartbreaking storyline that brings to the surface the fear Vietnam instilled in young Americans.
Another very interesting aspect of the film revolves around the relationship of husbands and wives. Paul informing Miriam of how she should vote, Jack (Martin Sheen) discussing his depression with his wife Samantha (Helen Hunt), and Tim (Estevez) following around his drunk wife Virginia (Demi Moore) are all relationships within this film that illustrate the struggle of women in the 1960s. It wasn't until this film and Helen Hunt's performance that I truly understand the term "desperate housewife." She lacks confidence and is doing everything to please those around her with no respect for herself. It is another heartbreaking story that lends to the overall tone and theme of the film. All of the relationships in the film serve to bring out this theme of hope and faith in something that can save all Americans, a hope and faith symbolized by Bobby Kennedy.
There is so much anger in these characters. They're angry over the death of Martin Luther King. They're angry with the war. They're angry with these expectations that have been set for them. One of the greater scenes in the film involves Edward, Jose, and Miguel sitting around the kitchen talking about anger and the assassination of Dr. King. I'd give you the play-by-play, but I can't do it justice. The scenes that have the most power, speak the loudest, bring out the greater truths happen in that kitchen, the kitchen where Bobby Kennedy was killed.

My only criticism of the show, though time period appropriate, is a sub-storyline involving two campaign workers and a drug dealer in the hotel. The dealer is played by Ashton Kutcher who I just can't take seriously and placing him in this role didn't help. He is his usual silly, obnoxious self, and I didn't feel it added to the film. There is an entire scene that is basically an acid trip--with reference to LBJ and the youth of American on LSD. It bothered me. Not because it was a disgraceful act, a fairly typical action in the late 60s, but because it lacked the depth and seriousness that the other story lines contained.
I saw this film three times, not because I didn't want to miss anything, but because I was so deeply touched by the individual stories that added to the overall tragedy of losing Bobby Kennedy. In one film you realize what Bobby Kennedy was, what he represented, and what his death cost this nation. President Ford's passing and all the news coverage reflecting on the turmoil his administration faced has really brought this "cost" to light for me. Each time I saw the film I walked away with the same feeling of loss. Each of those characters looked to Bobby with the same amount of faith, hope, and complete trust. Each of those stories brought to the surface an emotional response in me, not the response of an individual that has studied the Kennedys for years, the response of a human being that feels right now similar to those individuals in the film that were looking to Bobby to pull them out of an unjustified war. American needs a Bobby now.
Ignore the reviews and go see this film. When it comes out on DVD, buy it.

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