There’s a moment in Bobby when innocence and hope are prominent and pure. Right there, immediately in front of us.
Just before accepting the accolades from the cheering California crowd assembled in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, Senator Robert Kennedy summons campaign staffer Dwayne Clarke to his suite to offer thanks for a job well done. Yes, there’s appropriate build up to this scene, as it has been well set to this point. Still, when it happens, you’re convinced that Duane has been to the promised land. That he has touched the grail. And even with the meeting happening off camera, it’s Dwayne’s reaction following that moment that sums up this film.
It’s not just a day in the life of a range of folks who happen to be in LA’s Ambassador Hotel that fateful day in June, 1968.
It’s not just a character study with some solid performances by actors not used to supporting roles. It’s not just a reminder of what that moment in the 60’s was, for all of us.
It’s the reminder that people once really believed in the hope that politicians promised us. At one time we believed their words, or at least acted as though we believed them.
Much of that died on June 6, 1968, with the death of Bobby Kennedy, and that sadness is presented as well in Emilio Estevez’s impressive film.
Dwayne Clarke once again shows the human side following the murder, losing himself in the moment, trying to act out violently, yet unsure of what to do, exactly how to express himself. Whether to hope again, or let the anger rage. And we all feel that, with Dwayne embodying the spirit of this film, that suggests both hope and loss, innocence and anger. A transition from a point where there might have been promise, to something altogether different.
Estevez weaves together a convincing series of characters and scenes, a homage to the Grand Hotel, here in America. Both the audience and the players know the day is building to the campaign event in the late evening. But how each person’s day played out, and how they arrive at the ballroom, and what they experienced along the way, lays silently alongside that famous image of the nameless kitchen working cradling the head of the fallen political icon.
Labor issues, marital indiscretions, poverty, racism, sexual politics, alcoholism, Hollywood dreams, drug experimentation, aging, are among the issues addressed not only by the characters, but the scenes of Senator Kennedy as he campaigned in Appalachia, and across the country, during his abbreviated run the Democratic nomination.
While Estevez does have an actor on screen as Kennedy for several scenes, it’s the historic footage of Kennedy, as well as the words from his speeches, that advance this film towards it’s knowing and fateful end.
Outside of an interlude during Kennedy’s victory speech that incorporated a snippet from the Simon and Garfunkel hit ‘The Sounds of Silence,’ uncomfortably echoing back to ‘The Graduate’, and opening up the film for two unnecessary minutes, Bobby moves smoothly and convincingly.
Estevez may be up for a best director nod for this film. And if Hollywood has the equivalent of sport’s comeback award, he would definitely win that one hands down this year.
While the celebrity cast carries itself marvelously, and reportedly for scale, no less, it’s the concept, the weaving of ordinary lives into a moment that has been etched into history that reveals this as an American story that works for all, not just film buffs, not just nostalgic 60’s throwbacks, and not just Kennedy Democrats.