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IN SHORT: You had to be there. Seriously. That's this film's big flaw. [Rated R for language, drug content and a scene of violence. 111 minutes]
If you are not old enough to remember Robert F. Kennedy first hand, Cranky hopes your parents have thoroughly in the myth of Camelot. Without that knowledge, well, what do we always write about fact based films ??? . . . Yep, you shouldn't have to know the source to get the story. Writer/Director Emilio Estevez' script, IMHO, needs one more pass for additional depth of character to get it to that level. For those first generation RFK supporters, it fails to leave (us) in tears. It should have. 'nuff said.
It doesn't matter if you were of the Freedom Rider generation, or just a junior high dweeb getting beat up by the black kids playing hooky in the junior high school bathroom, America in 1968 was a dangerous place to be. The War in Vietnam was beginning to heat up as was a nascent anti-war movement. Blacks were ready to take the equality that Martin Luther King had told them to wait for quietly -- sixty cities went up in flame in riots in the year before this story, so the press notes remind us -- and said MLK was already dead and buried a few months before the events of June 5, 1968. On that day, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, the dream of Camelot went out like a supernova.
There are the de rigueur stories of reg'lar folk all touched by the presence of Greatness (no sarcasm implied. seriously). All the following are fictional characters -- you try to get releases from surviving witness and their heirs. Estevez decision gives him great leeway with his script and makes for some better stories: Staff hairdresser Miriam Ebbers (Sharon Stone) tends to the hair of the soon to be wed Diane (Lindsay Lohan), who is marrying William Avary (Elijah Wood) to allow him a military option that will keep him away from Vietnam. Stone's husband Paul Ebbers (William H Macy) is the manager of the Ambassador, as is the switchboard operator he's shtupping (Heather Graham). The Wifey "knows" something is going on but she isn't ready to push the point. Yet. Two 19 year-old campaign volunteers Jimmy and Cooper (Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf) are in the Ambassador, waiting for a glimpse of RFK, and seeking out the location of dope dealer (Ashton Kutcher) who had great weed and something new, called LSD. Kitchen staffers Jose Rojas and Miguel (Freddy Rodriguez and Jacob Vargas) are stuck on a double shift, as tickets to the evening's Dodgers game burn a hole in Jose's pocket. Don Drysdale is expected to pitch a sixth shutout that evening. History was to be made in Los Angeles. Jose, unable to get to the game, gets to be part of a bigger slice of history.
Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon play aides to the Senator who pop up now and then. There is also the retired doorman (Anthony Hopkins) who still comes to the hotel every day to play chess with a fellow retiree (Harry Belafonte); The past her prime, alcoholic lounge singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) is performing the last night of her contract. Husband Tim (Emilio Estevez) and manager Phill (David Krumholtz) have managed to get her a prime spotlight introducing RFK to his waiting throng.
take a deep breath, we're not done yet . . .
Kitchen boss Timmons (Christian Bale) is eager to slur his minority staff to their faces, we've mentioned two already. Add to the list sous chef Edward Robinson (Laurence Fishburne) who counsels the Mexicanos on staff to wait their turn at the trough of equality. Just as his people have for a couple of hundred years. Back in the legit hotel, are second honeymooners (Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt) in the "this honeymoon is a last, desperate attempt to fix everything" tradition. Czech newspaper reporter Lenka (Svetlana Metkina) has been crashed on a couch in the lobby for two days, trying to get five minutes for an interview and, finally, would be actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is busy pouring coffee in the coffle shop.
Remarkably, Estevez keeps all these names pretty well balanced in his script. What is missing, at least for us, is the kind of background stuff that belongs in the dialog; how RFK is going to save the country and so forth (We really did believe that, back in '68). There are a lot of RFK speeches but the hopes and dreams of common Americans and all that stuff which got blasted to pieces a couple of hours later is just too subtle for our dim wit. One pairing needed more emphasis, at least for us, and that is the Lohan-Woods subplot, the closest to reflecting the reality of that era. You'll understand as you reach the end of the film. That kind of thinking was still in effect as Cranky neared draft age and the damned war was still going on.
Bobby has way to big a cast to do that grand sort of dream justice, but that's what the screenplay attempts. Better to try and fall short (and no dissmail from older viewers more fervent about their RFK worship than Cranky. Thank you.) than not to try at all. We throw serious technical props to DP Michael Barrett and production designer Patti Podesta who beautifully recreate the Ambassador that is long lost to time, and perfectly matching new footage to newsreel stock. That's not easy. Cranky's a tech guy. Good work gets written credit here.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Bobby, he would have paid . . .
Sorry folks, rent it. Bobby is a valiant effort on Estevez' part. How do we know it falls short? When our screening ended, there was silence. In Cranky's eyes, not a tear. If the script had connected, your humble servant would have been in a puddle.
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