For those of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties the year 1968 was a rough one. First there was the assignation of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. When a man of peace was gunned down it seemed hopeless. We were facing a military draft and the almost certainly of being sent to the war in Viet Nam. One ray of light most of us young and idealistic people of the day could see was Senator Robert Kennedy. His bid for the presidency was sure to be successful and the dark days of war would be over. Then on June 5th Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. The film ‘Bobby’ by Emilio Estevez is about that dreadful day in American history. It’s not so much about the actual assignation or the many conspiracy theories that have cropped up over the intervening decades. It doesn’t track the killer or attempt t provide motive for this heinous act. The film takes a look at a group of people going about their lives at that particular place on that day.
The place was the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angles, California; the date June 4th, 1968. The all important California primary for the Democratic presidential nomination was under way. The front runner, Robert Kennedy was sure to win but for most people in the hotel that day it was just another hectic day like so many others. The film looks at about two dozen such people, excited by Senator Kennedy’s impending victory but with their own personal problems heavy on their minds. John Casey (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is retired as the Ambassador’s doorman but he still remains a fixture at the luxurious hotel. He spends his time playing chess with another retiree, Nelson (Harry Belafonte), concentrating on the game and watching the ever present flow of people. On this day the hotel is bustling with Kennedy campaign workers including Wade (Joshua Jackson), Dwayne (Nick Cannon), Jimmy (Brian Geraghty) and Cooper (Shia LaBeouf). Their primary purpose was to make sure the inevitable victory party at the hotel will go off without a hitch. Cooper and Jimmy also have a side agenda of getting to know a hotel waitress, Susan Taylor (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Also within their sphere is a drug dealer Fisher (Ashton Kutcher) is lurking about dealing LSD to the campaign workers. Then there is the persistent Czech reporter, Lenka Janacek (Svetlana Metkina), trying in vain to get an interview with the young senator.
Naturally there are other guests in the hotel with little or nothing to do with the campaign. Tim Fallon (Emilio Estevez) and his wife Virginia (Demi Moore) are lounge singers whose careers and marriage are on a steep, downward slope. On the other side of marriage are Diane (Lindsay Lohan) and William (Elijah Wood). Like many young people back then their opposition to the war was more than theory. Diane is marrying William to prevent him from going to Viet Nam after he is drafted. Even though this is a marriage of some convenience Diane does seem to have true feelings for her friend. Also staying at the hotel are a couple of rich Kennedy campaign contributors, Jack (Martin Sheen) and his wife Samantha (Helen Hunt). They gave to the Kennedy campaign because it was the correct liberal thing to do.
As with any large establishment the staff comprises a little society of their own. Paul (William H. Macy) is the hotel manager who is pressured both in his personal and professional life. He is at constant ends with the food and beverage manager Timmons (Christian Slater) who in turn rides the hotel chef Edward (Laurence Fishburne). On Edward’s staff is busboy José (Freddy Rodríguez) who is an avid baseball fan and is upset about having to work instead of watching Don Drysdale go for a record sixth perfect game. Paul is also having an affair with a hotel telephone operator Angela (Heather Graham) and is trying to keep the secret from the staff and his wife. As all these people go about their day the audience knows just how the night will end.
The actual assignation is almost a reverse MacGuffin. It may be important to the audience but it doesn’t enter in the story shown onscreen. This is more of a somewhat rambling look at the lives of people who are about to have their lives interrupted by one of the great American tragedies. Estevez has a lot of hats to juggle in this film as the director, writer and one of many stars. In many ways he tries to emulate the ensemble cast style of the late Robert Altman but doesn’t have the mastery that Altman possessed. Estevez uses a steadi-cam to give an almost documentary feel to the piece instead of the slicker look of other similar films. This works here as it helps the audience to gain an intimacy with the characters. This is all important since the script tries to balance so many different stories. Unlike Altman’s films many of the stories remain separate from each other although they all head towards the assignation. Estevez also managed to film in the actual Ambassador Hotel before it was torn down adding to the realism of the film. Some of the stories are poignant while others are out right silly. The two campaign workers who take acid could have been left out or done in a less intrusive way. Over all the pacing is well done albeit choppy in places. The colors are pushed to softer hues giving a less intense feel. Estevez also does well in his decision to not cast an actor to play Kennedy. Instead he splices in archival footage adding to the documentary feel and preserving the integrity of the film.
I have to give a lot of credit to many of the actors in this cast. They are A-List performers accustomed to much larger parts who take smaller roles here. The Sheen- Estevez family has a lot of friends many of which show up here. Demi Moore usually plays powerful, decisive women but here does extremely well as a woman at the end of her career and marriage. Lindsay Lohan may be best known for her antics off screen but here she shows that she has talent. Lohan gives a empathetic performance as a young woman willing to marry a man at least in part out of her commitment against the war in Viet Nam. Elijah Wood may be a young actor but he sure has range. He will forever be known as the trustworthy hobbit but here he shows he can play regular human beings who are afraid of the future. William H. Macy gives one of the best performances here which is to be expected from this great actor.
The Weinstein Company brings this film to DVD with understatement. There is really nothing in the way of extras but the film can stand on its own. There are both Pan & Scan and widescreen versions available but as with all films respect should be shown to the director by getting the widescreen release. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is well done with, as mentioned, a soft color palette. The contrast is excellent and there are no signs of mastering defects. The Dolby 5.1 audio is excellent especially with some of the period music presented. In all this film has its flaws but it shows a level of commitment rarely seen in films today. Those with more decades behind them may have to explain some of the period references to the younger viewers but the film does capture the concept that the Kennedy assignation affected people with real, typical lives.