Emilio Estevez was down for the count. Only a few of the members of the “Brat Pack” were able to shake the label and come back for a second chance at a better career. Now, Estevez returns with the boldest of moves – a period piece of epic storytelling on the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Despite some of the film’s missteps, it is almost impossible not to be moved by Bobby. Working for basically free, a whole array of celebrities jumped at the chance to tell Estevez’ idealized version of Robert F. Kennedy’s final moments. Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Martin Sheen, Harry Belafonte, Elijah Wood, Demi Moore and of course, Estevez himself – each have their own little story to tell, problems to overcome, drugs to take. In the end, though, Estevez’ point is clear: the problems of a few silly people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, not with leaders like Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. getting shot.
The film opens on the night Bobby Kennedy and his entourage were to assemble at the Ambassador Hotel to watch the voting results. No one is paying much attention to Kennedy because they’re all involved in their own lives. Demi Moore plays a fading, alcoholic singing star whose husband (Estevez) patiently stands by while she destroys herself. Sharon Stone plays the hotel’s hairdresser and knows all of her patrons’ dirty little secrets; she learns that her husband (William H. Macy) has been sleeping with one of the receptionists (Heather Graham). Meanwhile, back in the hotel’s kitchen, the “brown man” is facing down the “black man” on the issues of the day – immigration, voting rights – all conflicts Americans, specifically Californians, are dealing with today.
Estevez’ film gets better as it goes along and is especially powerful in the film’s final moments, set only to Kennedy’s graceful, hopeful, prophetic words. This is, as Barack Obama would say, the “audacity of hope” rearing its ugly head at a time when that just isn’t done anymore. What is to admire here is the film’s utter lack of self-consciousness where its ideals are concerned.
As the conflicts in the characters’ lives come to a head, Kennedy is making his way to the hotel. Although we all know what happened that night, somehow living through what it might have been like for some people there is unexpectedly moving.
For Estevez, it’s a giant leap forward, one that puts him at least on the playing field. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Estevez is known around these parts as being a compassionate, humble man. His telling of the Kennedy story has more to do with viewing that night from our place in history – looking back from our rather bleak present and even bleaker future – than it does creating a realistic picture of that night at the Ambassador.
To that end, it is along the same lines as Good Night, and Good Luck, which also idealized the heroes of our past in order to illuminate our present.
Unlike Good Night, Estevez does not hold back the way Clooney did and as a result, Bobby is not a perfect film. There are probably a few scenes that could be trimmed down and some lines tweaked here or there, but in the end, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. It has magic anyway. Somehow it all works.
So, hats off to you, Mr. Estevez. And may your career extend beyond your wildest dreams.