Perhaps a better title for this movie would The Martyrdom of Saint Robert. This movie spends most of its two hours genuflecting before the memory of JFK’s little brother. While it’s not hard to believe that Bobby Kennedy was the most interesting person at the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the California primary, this movie would have you believe that the Senator was the only interesting person present that night.
I doubt this was writer/director’s Emelio Estevez’s intent, but his movie presents us with no alternate interpretation. Estevez borrows from the works of Robert Altman and the 1932 Best Picture Grand Hotel, presenting a large cast of loosely connected characters who are present at the hotel on the night of Kennedy’s assassination. While a few of those personages come alive for brief times but too often they are just vessels for the filmmaker’s ruminations on why the sixties were so groovy.
To fill these mostly forgettable roles, Estevez has assembled a truly impressive cast. William H. Macy plays the hotel manager, who’s married to the beautician (Sharon Stone) but having an affair with a switchboard operator (Heather Graham). He clashes with the bigoted food and beverage manager (Christian Slater), who has barred his Latino employees from having time off to vote. One busboy (Freddy Rodriguez), the one seen in the famous photo of Kennedy after his was shot, is angry at working a double shift because he has tickets to watch Don Drysdale pitch a crucial game at Dodger Stadium. The hotel’s chef (Laurence Fishburne) takes pity on him.
A black campaign worker (Nick Cannon) has latched onto RFK as his last hope after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Two white workers (Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty) blow off their canvassing to score some LSD. A young woman (Lindsay Lohan) marries a friend (Elijah Wood) to prevent his being sent to Vietnam.
A boozy singer (Demi Moore) and her husband (Estevez) watch as their careers and marriage dissolve. A stock broker (Martin Sheen) and his materialistic wife (Helen Hunt) celebrate their anniversary at the Ambassador. The former doorman (Anthony Hopkins) returns to the hotel every day to play chess with his friend (Harry Belafonte).
You could ask what these people have to do with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the answer would be a resounding nothing. The real problem is that none of them seem to be affected directly by the man’s murder, either. Among the characters connected to Kennedy, the two white campaign workers are more interested in getting high. The one character that seems to have a stake in the matter, their black coworker, is just a mouthpiece for a shallow view of Kennedy’s significance to African Americans.
The shallowness is endemic throughout the entire film. The “Bobby” of the title has less to do with the real Robert F. Kennedy, a notoriously ruthless political ally of Joseph McCarthy who ran covert CIA operations to assassinate Fidel Castro right out of the Attorney General’s office1, than an idealized vision of left wing purity. In his death is seen the end of some lost vision of this country. Of course, political ideals do not die with a single man, but it’s a lot easier to blame their failure on his death than for those who were left to carry it forward to assume that responsibility. Bobby is ultimately an uninteresting eulogy for a man who never really existed in the first place.