Friday, March 30, 2007

BOBBY (Review)

Spending detention in a library with Molly Ringwald and stalking Andie MacDowell. Oh, and starring in what is largely considered the worst Stephen King-related film of all.
Certainly a far cry from that to writing and directing an ambitious film like Bobby. But somehow, Emilio Estevez has managed to bridge that considerable distance.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

It’s the 4th of June, 1968, and in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where the Campaign Headquarters of Senator Robert F. Kennedy is located), a host of individuals converge on the fateful day that the course of a nation, and perhaps even the world, was dictated by an assassin’s bullet.
In a country wracked by social turmoil and civil unrest, Robert F. Kennedy was a beacon of hope, a grand statesman and popular humanist, who was largely considered the best and brightest hope to unite America, and to save it from an unpopular war.
Estevez uses the events of that final day as a pivot point around which to weave a tapestry of disparate lives united not just by the sharing of this tragedy, but by the simple fact of their common humanity.

And portraying this section of humanity is an assemblage of some of film’s most talented thespians, from the older generation—Sir Anthony Hopkins (also one of Bobby’s producers) and Martin Sheen (ain’t nepotism grand?)—to the younger set—Elijah Wood and Shia LaBeouf (who is set to explode in Michael Bay’s Transformers)—and spiced up with some Demi Moore (fellow Brat Packer, to whom he was once engaged, back in the day).
The ensemble meets expectations admirably, infusing their characters with honesty and humanity, a joint effort which earned Bobby a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Arguably though, the weak link here could very well be Mr. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher. His drug dealer, Fisher, doesn’t really seem anything more than Kutcher in hippie drag. But part of that problem could be traced to Estevez’s script.

In presenting us with 23 characters, Estevez could very well have stretched the Grand Hotel template a tad thin in certain places, leading one to question the relative importance of certain plot threads and characters to the film’s theme of hope in the face of turmoil. Aside from Kutcher’s drug dealer (whose presence also precipitates the bizarre acid trip Kennedy volunteers LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty go on), Sheen and Helen Hunt’s socialite couple are also problematic, as is Moore (unless doing a cover of “Louie Louie” is a valid enough excuse to have her in the movie), and even Hopkins, to a certain extent. And please, keep in mind that I’m not questioning the performances, but rather, whether we could have done without some of these characters.

With this many characters and this much going on, it’s unavoidable that some plot threads will be more important and more integral than others. Some, like the young husband- and bride-to-be (Wood and Lindsay Lohan) and several of the hotel employees (particularly Freddy Rodriguez’s busboy and Laurence Fishburne’s chef) serve to give voice to particular issues of the time, or to underscore some of the values and beliefs that Kennedy stood for, and these are the ones that clearly belong in this movie. Others though (some of which I’ve mentioned above) are on shaky ground.
If Estevez had shaved off some of the characters, then there might have been more screen time that he could have devoted to bolster some of the roles that seem iffy; Kutcher serves to typify both the drug and the hippie cultures, so the presence of his character could be justified, but as it is, he’s more a plot device to get LaBeouf and Geraghty high than a flesh and blood character.
Hopkins’ retired doorman also could have used some beefing up. This sort of character, who is acutely aware of the history of the story’s setting, could have been a far more valuable asset to the narrative than he turns out to be.

If there is a weakness to Estevez’s script, I feel it is this, and not, as some people may point out, its historical accuracy.
Yes, the bystanders wounded in the assassination in Bobby are fictional and not the actual victims. And yes, there is also no suggestion of any conspiracy pertaining to the assassination.
But this is not JFK. This is not that sort of film.
This is, instead, a film about the everyday kindnesses (the “… numberless diverse acts of courage and belief”) and the casual cruelties that make up the history of our lives as a race and as a people. It is about hope, about its resiliency and fragility.

Is there more to the story of Robert F. Kennedy? Of course, although I feel it would be more accurate to say there are other stories to tell of Robert F. Kennedy.
Estevez chose to tell one about everyday people and how a figure like Kennedy—already mythic, even in life—could impact and influence their lives, and that is just as valid as a story about destroyed evidence and mystery gunmen.
Estevez chose this tale, and for the most part, succeeded in the telling. Surely that is something worth celebrating.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."

(Quotes in italics from speeches by Robert F. Kennedy.)

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