by Tony Medley
This is not a biopic of Bobby
Kennedy. Oh, there are some vintage film clips of some of Bobby’s
speeches, and the final montage is shown under a voice-over of Bobby
talking about civility. Except for that, It’s not about Bobby Kennedy.
The most offensive part of
the film is the presence of Harry Belafonte, who plays a hotel retiree,
in the cast. There is no reason for Belafonte’s role, so there’s no
explanation as to why he is in the cast. His presence is an affront to
what this movie proclaims was Bobby Kennedy’s main theme of his 1968
campaign for the Presidency, civility and treating others with respect.
Belafonte is the direct antithesis of this philosophy. He has become
notorious for his bellicose manner in verbally castigating both
President Bush and the United States, even cozying up to the two biggest
anti-American tyrants in the hemisphere, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo
Chavez of Venezuela.
Another gaffe occurs when one
of the busboys is listening to a Dodgers baseball game, as Don Drysdale
was pitching his sixth consecutive shutout the night Kennedy was shot.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 they brought with them
announcer Vin Scully, who has been the Most Valuable Dodger ever since.
But the voice calling the game wasn’t Vinnie’s, or even that of Jerry
Dogget, Scully’s number two man who called two innings of every game
(the third and the seventh). If writer/director Emilio Estevez wanted to
capture the ambience of Los Angeles and wanted to use a Dodgers game to
do it, he can’t do it without Vin Scully. Maybe Vin and the Dodgers
didn’t want to cooperate.
“Bobby” is of a genre that
could be called “Altman-light,” which is damning for me to say because
I’m not a fan of Robert’s (1975’s “Nashville,” 2001’s “Gosford Park,”
2006’s “The Prairie Home Companion,” to name just three of his
critically-acclaimed films that I didn’t like). In the style of Altman,
Estevez chooses to tell the story of 22 fictional characters placed at
the Ambassador the night Kennedy was shot. It starts in the morning and
cuts back and forth among several people, played by stars like Estevez’s
father, Martin Sheen, honeymooning with his much younger wife, Helen
Hunt, Demi Moore, who plays drunken chanteuse Virginia Fallon starring
at the Cocoanut Grove and there to introduce Bobby at the party that
night (Estevez plays her husband, Tim), Ashton Kutcher, Demi’s husband
and an actor I admire, playing Fisher, a drug dealer, Laurence Fishburne,
playing Edward Robinson, an Ambassador Hotel sous chef (Edward
Robinson? Is there some obscure reason Estevez chose that name, so
similar to actor Edward G. Robinson?), Wiliam H. Macy, playing hotel
manager Paul Ebbers, Sharon Stone, playing his wife, Miriam, and Anthony
Hopkins, who co-produced, playing a retired doorman, among many others.
None of these characters ever
lived. Why Estevez chose to make this totally fictional is puzzling
because five real people were shot the night Kennedy was assassinated.
Why invent people when Estevez could have told authentic stories about
genuine people? In so doing, he might have brought some meaning into
their lives for the tragedy they suffered through. It would have had the
added extra value of being truthful. Apparently Estevez (who was only
seven years old in 1968 when the event occurred) wasn’t interested in
One thing for which Estevez
should be congratulated is filming this with so many Hollywood
luminaries on a skimpy budget of around $6 million. Maybe Estevez isn’t
a great filmmaker, but he’s evidently not a bad businessman. Maybe
hampered by his budget restraints he does a disappointing job of
recreating the legendary Cocoanut Grove, although how much could a couple of fake
palm trees cost?
The essence of the movie is
that we follow the various characters, all waiting for the results of
the 1968 California Primary Election and Bobby Kennedy’s appearance at
the end of the day. I found it an excruciatingly slow, uninvolving,
story of a bunch of imaginary people about which I cared not a whit.
The closing credits are shown
over some interesting pictures of Bobby and his family. When I saw it,
the film was still being cut. It ran around 1:50. If you arrive at
around the 1:45 mark, you won’t miss anything and you’ll get to see the
November 14, 2006