Bobby (15)

ANDREW CLARKE In our current world full of cynicism and with politicians probably the most mistrusted people on the planet, it's hard to conceive of a time when a politician could be regarded both as an idealist and a pragmatist.

ANDREW CLARKE

In our current world full of cynicism and with politicians probably the most mistrusted people on the planet, it's hard to conceive of a time when a politician could be regarded both as an idealist and a pragmatist. But this the view that comes over in Bobby - Emilio Estevez's re-creation of the day that Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

Bobby is not a biopic. Instead, it is an ensemble movie about life at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles which served as presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy's campaign headquarters.

It has taken writer/director/co-star Estevez seven years to get this film made and it has been well worth the wait. What we get instead of a political analysis of his policies or a step by step look at his life is a snapshot of the times, told through the lives of the staff and guests at the Ambassador.


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The day starts badly with a fire alarm sending the guests outside on to the pavement while it is still dark. It could be construed as a portent of things to come. On television the news is full of footage of Bobby Kennedy on the campaign trail in the run-up to the California primary elections.

Inside the hotel the various characters are getting on with their day. The hotel manager (William H Macy) is castigating the kitchen manager (Christian Slater) for refusing to allow the Mexican kitchen staff time off to vote. A husband (Martin Sheen) and wife (Helen Hunt) are doing their best to make a go of their marriage while the retired concierge (Anthony Hopkins) escapes from his lonely house back into the hotel which has become his emotional home.

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Estevez fashions an Altman-esque film which weaves together a wide number of inter-connected stories which are punctuated by real footage of Kennedy giving speeches and visiting some of America's dispossessed.

There are also several scenes of Vietnam footage with voice-over from Kennedy telling voters it was time that America withdrew, honourably, from this spurious foreign war. The link with the current situation in Iraq is obvious.

The array of stories are, by and large, well constructed, the characters well defined and deliver performances which define the spirit of the age. For the nightclub singer (Demi Moore) she is starting to lose herself in drink as the music industry is undergoing a dramatic change in musical tastes following the success of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.

William H Macy's character is married to a hotel beauty stylist (Sharon Stone) and is conducting an illicit affair with his hotel telephone operator (Heather Graham) - a secret which is picked up on by the resentful kitchen manager (Slater) who passes on the information to the distraught wife.

Elsewhere, a teenager (Lindsay Lohan) is saving her boyfriend (Elijah Wood) from front-line action in Vietnam by marrying him. It turns out that married draftees get sent to Germany whereas singles are posted to the jungles of Vietnam.

The mood of change is not only captured in the wedding chapel but in the fact that Estevez makes good use of television coverage of the then recent murder of Dr Martin Luther King.

Estevez cleverly balances the different stories to maintain audience interest until Robert Kennedy arrives at the hotel in the evening to celebrate his win in California - a moment when all the different strands are drawn together.

Estevez' masterstroke is not to get anyone to impersonate Kennedy. He is shown just through television footage of the time.

The assassination is shown as a mixture of television footage and reconstruction. There is no sound. There is chaos and confusion on screen. But placed over the top of these distressing images is the calm voice of Robert Kennedy giving a speech about the need for America to re-appraise itself, to turn away from racial hatred and organised violence.

It's an inspiring speech lasting more than five minutes and leaves you thinking what a world we would live in if he had survived and beaten Richard Nixon to the White House.

A stunning, inspiring piece of work.

 

 

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