It’s a tough business, working in Hollywood. First, you rise to fame in moments, and the world is yours. Then, you’re relegated to childrens movie fodder, then disposable sidekicks and then… nothing. And finally, if you do manage to lift yourself out of the wreckage of your career, and make something you genuinely believe, you’re dismissed as too liberal. A tough business.
It’s not like Emilio Estevez hasn’t battled since his peak in teen dramas of the early eighties like The Breakfast Club or That Was Then… This Is Now. Mentoring a bunch of children in The Mighty Ducks and appearing uncredited in Mission: Impossible signalled a prolonged absence from the screen, and it appears he used his time away well. For watching Bobby, one knows this is something Estevez feels – the film is too much of a love story to think anything else.
Choosing to depict the late 60s through the prism of the lives of a small group of people in orbit around the 1968 campaign of Robert F. Kennedy for President, Bobby delivers a well-realised depiction (seemingly, I’m too young to really know) of the feeling of the times. Vietnam was polarising the community, drug culture was on the rise, and women were exploring new freedoms. African Americans were still fighting for equal rights in the shadows of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Although it would be possible to sit back and pick in what way each character is going to contribute to this montage as they are introduced, that is overly cynical, and for the sake of allowing the gradual buildup Estevez is shooting for, it’s best to not over-think it.
There are several excellent performances including those of Freddy Rodríguez as busboy José and Sharon Stone in what is a surprising turn for anyone who has seen any of her previous work. She gives such an honest, open portrayal of her ageing stylist, it is hard to believe she most recently starred in Basic Instinct 2. Others to excel are William H. Macy, as always, and Anthony Hopkins whose retired doorman is ever reliable. Unfortunately, there are other roles that are less adequately performed, including the husband and wife team of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher – Kutcher in particular grates on the senses.
By choosing not to have an actor stand in for Bobby Kennedy, Estevez allows the focus to remain on what Kennedy meant to his supporters, without the distraction of having someone portray another so well known. Archival footage and recordings are heavily employed to create a presence for Kennedy, and in general these are interwoven with the fictional storylines without distraction. The material utilised to emphasise Kennedy’s power and personality is effective indeed – although this could be seen as evidence of selection bias, no-one, Estevez included, seems to be suggesting this isn’t the story of one of his heroes.
A few clunky scripting mistakes and bewildering musical montages aside, Bobby is a generally successful ode to not just RFK but also the hope he embodied.Rating: