Director: Emilio Estevez
Starring: Anthony Hokins, Demi Moore, Christian Slater, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Emilio Estevez, William H. Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Ashton Kutcher, Heather Graham
Running Time: 120 min.
**1/2 (out of ****)
Emilio Estevez's Bobby is a misfire that fails so fascinatingly I couldn't turn away from the screen. It was like watching a train wreck. In that sense, I would recommend everyone see it. The movie is all at once mind-numbingly boring, unintentionally hilarious, and at times emotionally moving. The film features some career worst performances from major stars and some brilliant ones from lesser known actors. Major mistakes are made tackling a sensitive subject that borders on being downright offensive. Yet strangely, the movie is unforgettable and nearly redeems itself in the emotionally powerful last half hour.
The cast you see listed above is perhaps the most star-studded ever assembled in a film and given the liberal leanings of Hollywood and the connections of Estevez (who concieved, wrote and directed this himself), it's not exactly a surprise that major A-list stars were foaming at the mouth to be a part of it. What is a surprise is that someone thought it was a good idea for many of them to be in the film in the parts they were cast. It was definitely time for a movie about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. This is supposed to be about what he stood for and how he affected the lives of a myriad of fictional characters who were present in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in 1968, the day the 42 year-old senator was gunned down after winning the California primary. Only it doesn't completely succeed where it needs to. Estevez has his heart in the right place and the movie does succeed as something: Being one of the most unforgettably bizarre movie experiences I've had this year.
I cannnot possibly overstate how loaded this cast is, nor how sometimes it distracts unbelievably from the important issue at the center of the film. There are so many subplots and storylines (some good, a lot bad) going on I had to remind myself at times that Kennedy was going to be shot. It becomes almost an afterthought in the midst of what is essentially a nearly two hour soap opera.
We have William H. Macy as the hotel's manager who's married to manacurist Sharon Stone, but having an affair with switchboard operator Heather Graham. Macy just fired the restaurant manager Christian Slater because he's a racist who won't let Hispanics leave work to vote. Freddy Rodriguez is a busboy with tickets to see Don Drysdale's sixth consecutive shutout but can't go because he has to work a double shift. He gives the tickets to the Ambassador's chef, played by Lawrence Fishbourne. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are a married couple battling his depression and her superficiality. Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood play childhood friends getting married so he doesn't have to go to Vietnam. Anthony Hopkins is the retired doorman of the Ambassador who now just hangs around in the lobby and plays chess with Harry Belafonte. Demi Moore plays washed up alcoholic lounge singer Virginia Fallon, who's set to introduce Kennedy that night and is stuck in a loveless marriage to Emilio Estevez. Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon are young Kennedy campaign workers who send Shia LeBouf and Brian Geraghty out into the field to get votes, but they instead hit on flirty waitress Mary Elizabeth Winstead and drop acid with hippie drug dealer Ashton Kutcher. And on and on.
There isn't enough space in this review to list all the ridiculous choices Estevez makes in this film but I'm going to attempt to try. First, there's the casting. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to put Lindsay Lohan and Ashton Kutcher in major roles in a movie about the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy. Unfortunately for both, they're involved in the two worst storyline threads in the entire film further accentuating their unwelcome presence. I'm not saying this as a shot at their acting abilty, though neither are very good (Lohan's performance is merely adequate, while Kutcher is just plain awful), but more at the decision to cast them in these roles.
The second Lohan appears on screen it's distracting and I was taken completely out of the movie. It's not her fault she's such a huge celebrity (well, it kind of is) but how could she top anyone's list of who they'd want to see playing this role? If it's a movie about the day Bobby Kennedy was shot, wouldn't you want it to seem as authentic as humanly possible? I know this is a fictional account, but why not avoid a potential problem by casting a relative unknown instead of making Lohan have to act beyond her reach to overcome preconcieved notions. She's not up for it.
As for Kutcher, his appearance actually drew unintentional laughter from the audience. Bobby's probably rolling over in his grave. Even worse, his character serves no purpose other than as an excuse to show us there was drug use in the 60's. It's forced and unnecessary. This is representative of another larger problem with the film. This whole drug scene excursion with the campaign workers is funny, but not for the reasons Estevez wants it to be. The scenes are so stupid and ridiculous that it becomes hysterical for all the wrong reasons. Helping with this is Estevez blasting Donovan's "Season of the Witch" over the sound track because well, you know, it's 1968. There's even the mandatory appearance of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." Estevez also has the characters in the film have arbitrary conversations about The Graduate and Planet of the Apes just to make sure we don't suffer from time dislocation. There's also an annoying Czech reporter (cartoonishly played by Svetlana Metkina) determined to interview Senator Kennedy. Of course, she's in the film only so they can mention Communism and deliver the cruel irony of her never getting the interview. I'll give it to Estevez, though. He jams as many 60's social issues as he can into the picture. In just the first hour we witness infidelity, racism, mental illness, Communism, materialism and the anti-war movement.
The wisest decision Estevez makes is to not cast any actor in the role of Bobby. He instead intersperses real footage of Kennedy into the fictional story. Even though I felt uncomfortable seeing footage of the real man intercut with these storylines, Estevez at least knew the movie should be about the hope Bobby represented and any actor would have a rough time trying to convey that. The way this movie was cast I suppose I should just be grateful Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes weren't playing Robert and Ethel Kennedy.
With this many big names you are bound to have a number of different and interesting performances. Some actors come out of this circus unscathed while others don't. Anthony Hopkins has maybe the most useless role of his entire career as the former doorman. He hangs out in the lobby. That's it. Is Estevez trying to show how time can has passed these people by? I'm sure, but why is Anthony Hopkins in the role? It makes no sense to have an Academy Award winning actor to do nothing for two hours.
I did some research and found out none of these characters are based on real people. I'm glad because if lounge singer Virginia Fallon really existed her family would have to sue Demi Moore for slander. She gives an unbelievably campy performance, easily the worst in the film. I don't know whether to be relieved the character is ficticious or insulted it was actually written and conceived for the the screen. The saving grace of her performance is that she does her own singing and her voice is actually very good. Moore and Sharon Stone have an interesting scene together in the salon where they confide in one another the problems facing older women. This is clearly meant to draw parallels with the actresses' own lives, but what's more fascinating is watching Stone completely out act her.
Despite the trivial nature of the adultery storyline, Stone, Macy, and most surprisingly, Heather Graham, all give really solid performances. Christian Slater does career-high work as the bigoted kitchen manager who clashes with Macy. That Slater and Graham are such standouts amidst the names billed along side them should give you an idea how strange this movie is. With a small role, Mary Elizabeth Winstead also does a great job as the aspiring actress waiting tables. In just the few minutes of screen time she's given she seems authentic and real, acting how you imagine a waitress would in 1968. Why couldn't she have Lohan's role?
Nick Cannon and Joshua Jackson are also very good and they have much larger parts than you'd expect. Even though Estevez addresses the issue of racism heavy handedly, the performances of Laurence Fishburne and Freddy Rodriguez reach way beyond it. Fishburne especially. He gives a speech about race and society that forces you to sit up and pay attention. When he gets the tickets to the Dodgers game, he scribbles a message on the kichen wall and it's a heartbreaking moment because we know by the end of the night who's blood will be covering it. Rodriguez's performance is the heart and soul of the movie. His character is based on the famous photo of the busboy cradling Kennedy's lifeless body in his arms after the shooting. He makes us care about him so it becomes that much more emotional when that pivotal moment finally does come. Out of everyone, his character is the one that really connects.
A strange thing happens with the film when we finally see Sirhan Sirhan enter the Ambassador. It suddenly takes on an important meaning and everything ties together. There's almost justification for a lot of the ridiculousness we endured for the first hour and a half and I realized why we were introduced to all these people, even if at times they seemed like caricatures. I was even reminded of an important detail of the assassination that I had either forgotten or just pushed out of my mind during the film. This detail becomes important in realizing why the film was tracking so many random people in the hotel and their behavior. When he's shot the scene is scary, devestating and uncomfortable giving the rest of the film an eery brilliance, despite all it's flaws. It's kind of neat the way Estevez brings them all together at the end.
By the time the credits rolled, I felt film does pay tribute to Bobby Kennedy and the cold, hard impact his death had on the entire country and the world. There was a universal loss of hope you could argue we've never fully recovered from. What would have happened if he wasn't shot? He likely would have won the Presidency but how would that have affected things today? One of the things the movie does very well is draw a strong parallel between the turmoil and uncertainty of the 1960's and what's happening now. If you think about there isn't a huge difference and that may be the saddest message I walked out of this movie with. The last half hour to forty five minutes of this picture almost saves everything. Almost.
I just read a Roger Ebert interview with Nicolas Cage where Cage says he looks forward to getting mixed reactions to his films because it confirms he's working outside the box and evoking strong reactions. Even if they don't like it at least "they felt something." I thought about that comment after leaving the theater. I don't recall ever having such a strong reaction to a movie I felt was this flawed. Estevez at least had the creativity to fail interestingly and he gets credit for being a far superior director than writer. The movie is well-paced, beautifully shot and he deserves special props for being able to shoot some scenes in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel before it was torn down.
With it's end of the year release date and all-star cast this movie is clearly being postioned as Oscar bait. It should be interesting to see whether the Academy overlooks the movie's flaws and probable low box office to give it any nominations. Like I said, Estevez clearly has his heart in the right place with this project. It's just his mind I'm not so sure about. Bobby may not necessarily be good, but it isn't easily forgettable.