December 12, 2006 -- This film about the last hours of Robert Kennedy's life isn't about Kennedy himself but about the hopes that were riding on him. Kennedy was the candidate who people hoped would get the U.S. out of the Vietnam war. He was the one that people hoped would fix the health care system and do something about the persistent pockets of poverty in America. Those hopes were dashed when Kennedy was assassinated on the eve of his victory in the California primary election in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
“Bobby” focuses on a group of people at the hotel and on Kennedy's words about his hopes for the future, words which drift in from the soundtrack at times, especially while the end credits are rolling. Diane (Lindsay Lohan of “Mean Girls”) and William (Elijah Wood of “Lord of the Rings”) are to be married for the sole purpose of preventing William from having to fight in Vietnam. Hotel manager Paul (William H. Macy of “The Cooler”) is carrying on a torrid affair with one of the hotel employees, Angela (Heather Graham of “Bowfinger”) while his wife, Miriam (Sharon Stone of “Broken Flowers”) works as a hairdresser in the hotel. Timmons (Christian Slater of “Windwalkers”), who supervises the kitchen staff, is a bigot who has some run-ins with Paul. One of the kitchen employees, José (Freddy Rodríguez of “Poseidon”) wants to go to a baseball game, but ends up working a double shift instead, which puts him on a collision course with history.
A wise chef, Edward Robinson (Laurence Fishburne of “Mission Impossible III”) holds forth with a disgruntled kitchen worker Miguel (Jacob Vargas of “Jarhead”) about the need for patience in dealing with social injustice. An alcoholic nightclub singer, Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore of “G.I. Jane”) browbeats her manager husband, Tim (Emilio Estevez of “D3: The Mighty Ducks,” who also wrote and directed the film). An old married couple, Jack (Martin Sheen of “The Departed”) and Samantha (Helen Hunt of “Cast Away”) have a heart-to-heart discussion about Samantha's insecurity. One of the funnier lines in the movie comes just before the tragedy when José, seeing the crush of people in the kitchen waiting for Bobby to come through, notes, “I've never seen this many white people in the kitchen before.” A retired Ambassador Hotel doorman, John Casey (Anthony Hopkins of “All the King's Men”) can't seem to leave the hotel behind him. He plays chess in the lobby with his old friend, Nelson (Harry Belafonte of “White Man's Burden”).
There are some parallels between all these people and the events that happened that day. The stories of these people all seem to foreshadow future events as well. We see the passing of one generation and one of the defining moments of the Baby Boom generation in the assassination of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. Perhaps Paul's infidelity foreshadows that of President Clinton many years later. The Vietnam war certainly has many parallels to the Iraq war. The tarnished presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon parallel the tarnished presidency of George W. Bush. Many of the problems that existed in 1968, health care, poverty, a pointless war, exist today. Leaders like John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are rare. Their loss has never been replaced. When will the next great leader come along? After all these long years we're still waiting (as the Bruce Springsteen song says “for a hero to rise from these streets”) and we still have hope.
These various stories of these diverse people in the Ambassador Hotel all are tied together by the events of that day. How they are tied together in other ways is a bit more elusive, but somehow it all works. While the movie is about one of our great national tragedies, it is not without hope. The film reminds us of the progress that was made, particularly during the Johnson Administration on the civil rights front. Hispanics, long a slumbering giant in America (Miguel declares in the movie “We're the new niggers”) awoke in 2006 and sent a strong message to Washington in the November elections, that those who try to kick them around will pay a price.
The films holds out a ray of hope for everyone in America. Someday, even homosexuals may have equal rights. The hope in the movie lies in the fact that most of the people in the movie are trying to do the right thing most of the time. I think most people do, but sometimes they get tricked by clever politicians into doing the wrong things. I'm still waiting for that leader. This film rates a B.
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