Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bobby (2006) review

This was an unexpected surprise, a very enjoyable movie! The pundits/talking-necks have been slagging this film as a deification of Bobby Kennedy, but I never noticed any Oliver Stone overreaching here. The story is simple: you have around 20 different-characters in their little subplots during a 24-hour period at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5-6, 1968, the site of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. It seems many reviewers were expecting JFK (1991), which is goofy. Maybe they're just liars? ;0) It's obvious from the beginning of Bobby that all the characters are composites of real-people who were there, and they are mostly-fictitious. There's a good-reason for this, because the film is not about recreating specific-events. It's a cultural and social 'photograph' of the hopes and dreams of the American people in 1968, and today. Yes, the ensemble-approach is a lot like Robert Altman,'s but Emilio Estevez has his own style that has a nice flow and sheen (pun-intended) to it. A young Czech-journalist informs us about the Prague Spring that was occurring in Czechosolvakia, while others illustrate the racial-tensions of the time. Other subplots are about the dynamics of marriage at that time, and the torture women had to endure under the fashions of the time! There are hints of the emergence of feminism, and 1968 was that year. We have guests of the Hotel, Mexican busboys, waitresses, beauticians, but RFK is only seen as he can be, in clips that weave throughout all the lives of the characters. It's pretty effective, but it was surprisingly subtle.

For the jaded, you just won't like this, and that's too-bad. I really feel-sorry for you. On just a technical-level, Estevez did a great job here. The performances by William H. Macy as a manager of the Ambassador, or Lawrence Fishburn as a wizened head-chef are satisfying and drew me in. All the characters drew me in, and I never felt distracted by star-cameos. The performances are too-good for that to happen. Harry Belafonte's (a prominent-critic of the Bush administration) geriatric-rapport with Anthony Hopkins' Ambassador concierge is so warm and genuine, and adds to a tapestry of what is a compelling-swath of Americana. I valued these characters, and I cared about them. Like I said, this is Frank Capra territory, with all the Populist sentiment of the originals (without being derivative). There isn't any moment where I felt the film beat me over-the-head with any particular-message, it just made some very humble and quiet-observations about where America has been, and where it's at today. From the references to hanging-chads and Black Americans being-denied the right-to-vote in the 1968 primaries, or Lindsey Lohan's war-bride pondering why her government hasn't provided adequate reasons for the American-invasion of Vietnam (or Iraq now), this is about 1968 and 2006. The writer/director did his homework, and the film is as densely-packed with bits of that fateful year as it can be.

But there is more. Ashton Kutchner (groan, but he was funny!) provides some comic-relief and some cultural context with his hilarious drug-dealer, a freak who's holed-up in the Ambassador selling-dope. Yes, like Altman, a number of the subplots intersect with each other. You either like the style or you don't, and I'm with the former. Bobby isn't a perfect movie by-any-means, but it is a very entertaining and enlightening set of stories about average-Americans on a very bad-day in our history. What struck me was how much happened in such a short-time--it was as if the public was truly overwhelmed by the assassinations of JFK, and Dr. King, but after Bobby, we sank-into a daze that we only seem to be awakening-from now. The 1960s was peppered with political-assassinations of progressive leaders, and by the late-1960s so much had been invested in them that their deaths were almost a body-blow to American enthusiasm and a social-movement. We lost our inertia and our positivity. With the murder of RFK, there wasn't much hope left for many people. It seemed a watershed, and a shared-sense of destiny evaporated for a time. This was a tactical mistake-in-thinking. We all have to be leaders now.

But forgetting all that, it's just a very competent film from a guy I had written-off! Visually, it just looks beautiful, and there was an excruciating effort to capture the styles and the look of 1968. Even mannerisms and dialect fit very well with what I know of the period. Seeing two geeky Kennedy campaign volunteers drop acid (via the Kutchner character) for the first-time is a more-accurate depiction of the 1960s than most period-pieces of the era--the whole-point is that the 'normals' from the suburbs were turning-on and joining the counterculture and the anti-war movement, folks. That was the reason why there was such a violent-reaction from the beltway, there were massive cultural-changes emerging. Freaks and hippies were rare, even in 1968, just like 'dropouts' of any era. Bobby gets this right. But watch other movies on the 1960s, and it seems they were everywhere! It's untrue, the counterculture was widely-distributed and fragmentary.

Emilio Estevez just gets so much right, it's hard to fault him here. Rather than obsess over the counterculture, the movie simply shows us the lives of a variety of ordinary-people. Bobby is a time-capsule of where the culture was at, and what the concerns of people were. It is their and our ideals that are important in the story. Bobby Kennedy was merely invested with those ideals by the American public, and he was responding to us. This is what made him special, and it's what the public wants from the new Democratic majority in Congress today. Will they rise to the occasion? Why RFK was murdered is another story, this isn't a story of para- politics or conspiracies, but of life as it is lived. It really isn't about Bobby Kennedy at all, but about us. This is what makes it Capraesque, like the Populism of "Meet John Doe."