Friday, December 29, 2006

Film Review: "Bobby"

Emilio Estevez, who wrote, directed and acted in "Bobby", has a caring heart. His film is a loving tribute to Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, assassinated brother of both assassinated President JFK and present-day Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. Robert Kennedy (RFK) was also a former Attorney General of the US, a US Senator from New York, and himself a candidate for the democratic party's nominee for President in 1968.

I lived in LA at the time of his assassination; I voted for Robert Kennedy in the California primary; he was probably my favorite candidate for President in the last 30 years. (A sudden insight: that's probably why I voted for John Edwards in the last California primary; he reminds me of RFK!!) RFK was a tough liberal; a soft reactionary. I remember the June night he was killed by Sirhan Sirhan (let's not argue assassination theories at this point!) at the Ambassador Hotel. He had just won the California primary. (Soon thereafter, as life would have it, RFK campaign manager, Dick Klein, moved across the street from us and became a family friend. He assured me that Kennedy was everything I thought he was.)

My wife and I had had dinner that evening with two other neighbors, close friends and also Kennedy supporters, to watch the TV results. Dinner was over: Robert Kennedy had just won by something like 52% to 38% (there were three candidates in the race). We lifted a glass in celebration. The guests went home. The TV went off.

The guests came running back five minutes later; with the news: "Bobby" Kennedy had been shot in the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel just after he has made a victory speech to his campaign workers. (I still get goose bumps when I write this!)

The last ten minutes of Estevez's "Bobby" gave me a deep wave of nostalgia. And I remembered why many of us were so enamored of RFK: more than his 'caring', more his toughness (he was a hard-nose prosecuting attorney for many years)...and beyond the politics, the competitive drive and self-deprecating humor, he spoke beautifully. His speech was the Eastern seaboard Brahmin language of education, of humor and precision; it soared with an elegant simplicity and truth. I had forgotten that both Kennedy boys had great speechwriters...especially Richard Goodwin and Theodore Sorensen. It was the era of Martin Luther King, when speech-making held center stage as a potent instrument of social change...before the time of 'sound-bites' and 'spin' and the ascendence of only political 'advertizing slogans'.

During the last ten minutes of the film, RFK's speeches resonated with topicality beyond even contemporary politicalk resonance--which is alot what Estevez was looking for (he is not a George Bush fan!); it was language for all time. Language--especially great language like that--strives to bind the universal human heart into conscious cohesion. Beyond politics, elegant language searches for common truth. Syntax is a quest for consensus of logic.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film is a soap-opera pastiche, weaving many trite (I know, my rebutters would say 'common humanity') stories--all they have in common is that they all worked at the Ambassador Hotel the night Kennedy was killed (mere co-incidence is not dramatic relevance, Mr. Estevez) and lacing them with so many actor-stars (too long a list to note) that the casting soon becomes more a stunt than a contribution to the film's overall effectiveness. I'm sure that's one of the ways Estevez got funding: name recognition! But his stories don't live up to the talent of his actors...and, to be true, some of their performances are a little embarrassing. (I'll bet 90% of them accepted the assignment because they also lean left in politics.) They are---whether they recognized it or not--simply too good for the material--especially some of the dialogue!!

But...oh well...Estevez' heart was aimed in a noble direction...and I got to see and hear Robert Kennedy, and relive some old, painful, but inspiring moments. I felt young again. Hope is possible...if we still will care. Thank you Mr. Estevez...and Bobby.


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