Remember the easy days of cinema, just six or so years back? Pre-Bush, pre-Iraq, pre-Every Single Historical Event having resonance with our times? In 2006, we had Jarhead (Gulf War II), Munich (response to 9/11), The New World (Iraqi mistreatment) and Good Night, And Good Luck (right-wing TV censors) using the past as portents for our present. Now, for 2007’s kick-off, there’s Bobby, Emilio Estevez’s star-saturated fictional account of events in LA’s Ambassador Hotel on 6 June, 1968. It’s the build-up to the shooting of Senator Robert Kennedy and the day the liberal music died.
The parallels between then and now are vivid. Unpopular war? Check. Domestic political turmoil? Check. Dodgy ballot papers? Check. Hell, there’s even an inconvenient truth about the environment. Spelled out for viewers who steer well clear of the news, Estevez makes damn sure everyone gets the points he’s trying to make. Cue Diane (Lindsay Lohan) and her justification for marrying near-stranger soldier William (Elijah Wood) in order to save him from going to Vietnam: “Until someone tells me why we’re over there...”
When it works, Bobby is a dazzler. With a ludicrous array of famous faces – Macy, Slater, Hopkins, Hunt, Sheen – flashing by in the opening minutes and a score that keeps the beat ticking along like a wound-up metronome, the film rarely has anything but a graceful flow. Add in stand-out performances from golden oldies Demi Moore as diva-on-the-decline Virginia Fallon and Sharon Stone as the hotel hairdresser, not to mention potentially career-making turns from a subdued, suffering Lohan and an exceptional, confident Joshua Jackson as eager political campaigner Wade, and Estevez’s polemic, on occasion, comes across with whirlwind force.
Perhaps inevitably though, with such a sweet shop of talent as his fingertips, the director crams far too much in. For one, Ashton Kutcher’s hippy/stoner/ dealer Fisher single-handedly represents the Summer Of Love and somehow gives it a bad name. Perhaps he was written into Demi’s contract. What’s more, meandering from plot to plot, A-lister to A-lister, once the gunpowder’s settled, it’s hard to think of certain characters (Sheen, Hunt, Graham, even Macy and Stone...) as anything other than a diversion from the main event.
It’s in the kitchen, then, where the real heat is, where workers whose lives would have been most affected by Kennedy’s likely ascent to the White House toiled for appalling wages. And where, symbolically, the Senator makes his last stand. It is populated by Mexican immigrants, all believing that their time will come and they will no longer be the “new niggers” of the USA.
Perhaps their plight, and the plight of a nation still tearing itself apart as we watch in 2007, is the true spill of Kennedy’s blood. As ‘Sound Of Silence’ wafts through the panicked hotel during the gripping climax, he embodies a missed political opportunity; how one lost leader can bring about the downfall of an entire nation... Oh, there go the portents again...
A historical timepiece reverberating now. Preachy in parts, but Estevez's Who's Who of Hollywood lights up an impressive ensemble drama.