Bobby is an unabashed valentine to the late Robert F. Kennedy, and, as such, it mirrors the earnestness and idealism that helped define the man and his sadly brief life in public service. Writer-director Emilio Estevez elevates RFK to a level of sainthood here, suffusing Bobby with aching nostalgia for a time that exists only in rose-colored memories. While Estevez certainly means well, an open heart and good intentions don't necessarily translate to a good film.
Bobby taps a star-studded cast to imagine June 5, 1968, the day Kennedy was shot at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel shortly after winning California's Democratic presidential primary. Estevez spreads out nearly a dozen story threads concerning the lives of hotel workers, hotel guests and campaign staffers. Thus, we have hotel manager Paul Ebbers (William H. Macy), who is cheating on his cosmetologist wife (Sharon Stone) with a hotel operator (Heather Graham), and who fires racist kitchen manager Darrel Timmons (Christian Slater), who, in turn, orders busboy Jose (Freddy Rodriguez) to work a double-shift, forcing the man to give his tickets for the big Dodgers game to the wise chef (Laurence Fishburne). Meanwhile, drunken lounge singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) lashes out at her ineffectual hubby (Estevez), who, in turn, stalks off to play chess with a retired hotel doorman (Anthony Hopkins), who ...
You get the idea. If multiple stories and an ensemble cast sound like you're in Robert Altman territory, well, don't jump to any conclusions. Nashville, this ain't. It's not even Popeye, really.
These are Ideas, not stories, being played out by Symbols instead of characters. Vietnam, racial unrest, hallucinogens, the Prague Spring and various permutations of the dissolution of the American family all crop up in these vignettes.
Each actor gets his or her turn in the spotlight with heavy-handed monologues. Sometimes it is merely dull, as with Hopkins and Harry Belafonte as a pair of old geezers hanging out in the lobby. Elsewhere, as when Fishburne canonizes Rodriquez for giving up his Dodgers tickets, the results are embarrassing. The most engaging part is keeping track of the movie stars (Hey, lookie! It's Helen Hunt!), making Bobby a sort of Love Boat of tragedy.
The movie is continually tripped up by its own aspirations. Estevez strains to hit modern-day hot-button issues, such as Latino rights and voter suppression, as well as the stuff of melodrama. Only a handful of actors -- particularly Slater, Stone and Shia LaBeouf as an acid-addled Kennedy staffer -- rise above the script's preciousness.
And yet the movie is almost, almost, salvaged by its inevitable climax, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. It is a bravura scene -- likely what led Estevez to make the film in the first place -- a searing, eloquent indictment of American violence accompanied by a stirring speech that Kennedy delivered after the death of Martin Luther King. It is a powerful ending, encapsulating the lost ideals and shattered dreams that emerged from the social tumult of the Sixties.
It's a beautiful print transfer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and boasting sharp detail and rich colors. There are a few instances of a soft picture, but it's far from distracting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is clean, crisp and immersive. Mark Isham's strings-heavy music score is effective, and it receives a solid presentation here.
Bobby: The Making of an American Epic (8:31) is an informative (if somewhat self-congratulatory) featurette that covers most aspects of the filmmaking, including acting, production design, music, costumes and the like. In interviews with Estevez and his large cast, it becomes clear that the movie, however flawed, was a definite labor of love.
The disc also has eyewitness accounts from the Ambassador Hotel, a 29-minute, 11-second panel discussion involving people who were at the hotel that fateful night. Also included is a theatrical trailer.
Emilio Estevez clearly takes a hagiographic view of Robert Kennedy in this well-meaning, but ultimately frustrating film. It's easy to admire Estevez's intentions, but Bobby's clumsy pretentiousness makes it tough-going.