The summer of 1968 is volatile in the US, and elsewhere, with the Viet Nam war still raging against public opinion, Martin Luther King having been assassinated in April and Andy Warhol shot and wounded in early June. In the first few minutes of June 6, after winning the California Primary and on his way to the Presidency, Senator Robert F. Kennedy is shot (and later dies) in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The people who were at the Ambassador that day - for reasons ranging from a wedding (Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood) to having nowhere better to be (Harry Belafonte, Anthony Hopkins) or having a gig at the Copacabana cabaret room (Demi Moore) - were immediately affected by the shots, while the rest of the world took a little longer.
Review by Louise Keller:
The political context and human elements are set side by side in Emilio Estevez' enthralling drama Bobby, when the intricacies and ideals of a group of characters come to a head the night Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot. Estevez has amassed an extraordinary ensemble cast with whom we experience the buzz, the anticipation for change, the discrimination, the demons and the human frailties. The characters may be fictional, but there is a reason for their being at the Ambassador Hotel on this fateful night. Bobby is more than a tribute to a man whose political life was in part shadowed by that of his elder brother. It is a fascinating reflection of the times, when idealism and hope still held pride of place in the minds and hearts of the American public.
There is drama in everyone's life - hotel staff, guests and the political campaigners preparing for the function when Kennedy is to give his victory speech. Most memorable is William H. Macy's astute hotel manager whose position belies a tenuous personal life that includes his mistress (Heather Graham) and wife (Sharon Stone who plays the hotel hairdresser who is resigned to hearing everyone's problems). In the hotel kitchen, the staff is replete with hiccups of double shifts, disgruntled workers and racial discrimination. Anthony Hopkins' doorman may now be retired, but can't help sticking around, and plays endless games of chess with his retired friend (played by Harry Belafonte). The guests are a mixed bag. Demi Moore's headlining entertainer with the drinking problem is a sad creation (Estevez plays her helpless husband); Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood's marriage of convenience begins as a means to avoid his being drafted to Vietnam. There are some funny moments when Ashton Kutcher's long-haired hippie drug dealer dishes out LSD to two naïve campaigner volunteers.
Some stories engage more than others, but Estevez' script keeps moving, so the pace never falters. News footage of Kennedy in campaign mode is cleverly integrated and by the time the limousine draws up outside the Ambassador, our anticipation is at its peak. Tension mounts as angst and confusion are rife in the final climactic scenes as the inevitable crazed gunman makes his mark. It's credit to Estevez that we are drawn so deeply and care, not only for Kennedy and all the fictional characters, but revisit a monumental time in history when the quest for purpose and happiness was devastated.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's almost shocking to be thrust back into the fiery halo of the mid-late 60s, realising just how volatile those years were. From Vietnam abroad to civil rights at home, American society was splintering and hurting. If Martin Luther King's assassination ripped the cap off the civil rights bottle, Bobby Kennedy's assassination broke the spirit of a generation.
What writer/director Emilio Estevez has done is create a time capsule, a crafted prism through which we can see that extraordinary political moment. He doesn't make the film a thriller or a political docudrama; he selectively follows 22 characters around the hotel on the day, reconstructing some, compacting others, so that in two hours we get a pretty fair sample of the social environment. Complemented by newsreel footage of Robert F. Kennedy, Estevez makes the past real for us, and above all, he gives the event meaning.
The meaning is what Bobby's loss means to so many in America who held hopes for their country - not only in a patriotic way, but as human beings. That, after all, was Bobby's message and appeal: humanity, justice, fairness, peace. If these sound like empty words that no longer have much place in realpolitiks, that's in no small measure due to the loss of men like King and the two Kennedy brothers.
An astonishing array of acting talent delivers a fine tuned set of characters that engage and entertain us - and will haunt us. They are not at the centre of the drama, but on the periphery - where we average Joe Blows are. Emilio Esteves sees Bobby's death as "the death of decency". And that's what makes the film so engrossing and tangible. It's a moving and sobering achievement.
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CAST: Harry Belafonte, Joy Bryant, Nick Cannon, Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Brian Geraghty, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Joshua Jackson, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LaBeouf, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy
PRODUCER: Edward Bass, Michel Litvak, Holly Wiersma
DIRECTOR: Emilio Estevez
SCRIPT: Emilio Estevez
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Barrett
EDITOR: Richard Chew
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patti Podesta
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2007