Film

Bobby (2006)

Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte in Bobby

With Kennedy serving as a symbol for what might have been, Bobby illustrates the problems he identifies.


Bobby

Director: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Christian Slater, Heather Graham, Laurence Fishburne, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Weinstein Company
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-11-17 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

--Robert F. Kennedy, "On the Mindless Menace of Violence," Cleveland, Ohio (5 April 1968)

Despite its title, Bobby is not about Bobby Kennedy. It is instead concerned with a diverse group of individuals staying at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel on 4 June 4 1968, the day Kennedy was assassinated. As their separate stories overlap and occasionally collide, Emilio Estevez's very sincere but occasionally flat-footed movie remembers RFK with reverence, nostalgic for a promise unfulfilled.

With Kennedy serving as a symbol for what might have been, Bobby illustrates the problems he identifies (he appears in archival footage throughout the film). Some of these illustrations are literal: when Kennedy laments the nation's involvement in the Vietnam war, the film provides an instance of a young hotel patron recently drafted; his frustration with ongoing, institutionalized poverty and racism finds shape in the experiences of black and Latino kitchen workers at the Ambassador.

The film's most effective moments however, occur without such heavy-handed framing. Scene by scene, the film is frequently commendable, even excellent. But just as often, plotlines slow the momentum, which is, of course, premised on a progressive moral argument rather than a narrative resolution. The film ends as you know it will, with the assassination, and more specifically, with the famous image of the busboy cradling Kennedy's head. And its introduction of José (Freddy Rodriguez) as he begins his workday in the kitchen, establishes at least one connection with recorded history.

José is disappointed almost as soon as he arrives at the hotel, learning that he's been assigned a double shift without his knowledge, and so he''' be unable to use his tickets to the Dodgers game that evening, the game that will become Don Drysdale's sixth consecutive shutout. Resigned to his fate, if frustrated, José is spurred to increasing resentment by his friend Miguel (Jacob Vargs). Seated round a table with other kitchen workers, Miguel spouts off in front of their boss, Edward (Laurence Fishburne). "We're the new niggers," Miguel declares. "Better get used to it." Edward looks bemused and understanding at once. "You've got a right to your anger," he tells Miguel. "I had anger, after Dr. King was killed, anger like you can't even imagine." But still, Edward argues, Miguel must do his job, and specifically, he must do his job for Edward, who demands efficiency and dedication. While they all know racism is hateful and infuriating, Edward explains the strategies he's developed for getting what he needs while allowing "white folks" to feel "like they're the great emancipators, like it was theirs to give in the first place."

Miguel continues to fume, but Edward is right, practically speaking. There's no immediate remedy for prejudice and abuse in the small space of the Ambassador hierarchy, or even in the layout of neighborhoods in L.A. The kitchen staff grumbles and rolls their eyes at the bullying and blatantly racist catering manager, Timmons (Christian Slater), who doesn't want to give any of them time off to go vote in the day's primary. Why bother, he reasons, as most of them are illegal and can't vote, while the others will use the time to engage in less productive activities, because those Mexicans, they're all the same.

When hotel manager Paul (William H. Macy) catches wind of Timmons' behavior, he fires him on the spot. At first, he appears a decent guy, even noble as he takes this stand in the name of workers he doesn't actually see during the day. But Paul has his own troubles, as he introduces one of several stories in the film that focus on marital woes. His wife Miriam (Sharon Stone) works as the hotel hairdresser, happy enough to chat with her clients as she combs and cuts their coifs. Her insistence that Paul is a good husband and father is put to a test when she learns of his affair with a hotel switchboard operator (Heather Graham). The fact that she's voicing her belief to the alcoholic singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) makes for a pointed comparison: Virginia has been fighting with her husband Tim (Estevez) throughout the day. "People come to see me because they love me," she slurs, spectacularly. "If I want to have a fucking drink, then I'm going to have a fucking drink because I deserve it." Tim, holding their lapdog, looks aptly beleaguered.

These meltdowns -- at least one destined to be reframed by the assassination -- is inverted by the renewal of devotion experienced by the anxiously insecure Samantha (Helen Hunt) and her gentle, depressed, and very wealthy husband Jack (Martin Sheen). The most hopeful plotline concerns a marriage about to be, between William (Elijah Wood) and Diane (Lindsay Lohan, who is very good here). As they talk about the chapel wedding to be performed that evening, they worry that it's for the "wrong" reason, that is, to keep him from going to Vietnam (as married men are typically sent to stations in Germany rather than front lines in Southeast Asia). But over the course of the day, they find they're also falling in love. While it's a little too "pretty to think so," the kids look so sincere and so desperate to do the right thing, that you're at least a little relieved to see them feel better about their plan (a plan that speaks to the draft's effect on individuals' thinking about the war, especially after the Tet Offensive).

Still another set of parallel plots is established in the friendships of retired hotel doorman John Casey (Anthony Hopkins) and his chess game (and philosophical debate) partner Nelson (Harry Belafonte), and two young Youth For Kennedy workers (Shia LeBeouf and Brian Geraghty). As the older men phrase their questions and desires in terms of social justice and personal fulfillment, the boys seek "good times" with the help of a drug dealer staying at the hotel (Ashton Kutcher). "What are you really looking for?" asks the long-haired Fisher (of men?). And with that, he offers up sugar cubes with drips of enlightenment, accompanied by the clichéd soundtrack choice of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."

As earnest as it wants to be, Bobby includes the expected youthful idealists as well, in the form of a local team of buoyant Kennedy volunteers, headed by the very dedicated Wade (Joshua Jackson). He and his second, Dwayne (Nick Cannon), discuss their dreams for the future, even as Dwayne, like Edward, remembers his heartbreak over Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination just two months earlier.

At times the cast looks like a collection of "cool kids," or a set of actors who want to believe in a project. And Estevez gets credit for his dedication and passion, even if the execution is imperfect. While these many plots vary in effectiveness and banality, the finale -- Kennedy's arrival the hotel and the violence that follows -- is undeniably moving (even if the use of "The Sound of Silence" is, again, clumsy). As the crowd gathered in the ballroom sees all too plainly, hopes run up against disappointment abruptly. The film looks back with sadness and frustration, drawing clear connections to current events (the war in Iraq, troubled elections, continuing racial tensions), but also a sort of hope, battered and half-forgotten. "This too afflicts us all."

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.