He saw wrong and tried to right it. He saw suffering and tried to heal it. He saw war and tried to stop it.
In the final quarter or so of Bobby, writer-director-actor Emilio Estevez finally starts tightening his grip on the viewer as we head inexorably toward the film's climax: the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. In the course of these scenes--among them Kennedy's acceptance speech after winning the California Democratic presidential primary (the senator is seen only in file footage), his death at the hands of gunman Sirhan Sirhan, and the chaos and despair that ensued--Estevez steadily ratchets up the sense of tension and dread. Knowing exactly what's coming, while the characters onscreen don't, is excruciating, as is our grief at hearing RFK's own words, so eloquent, so hopeful and inspiring, as we watch the horrible events unfold and wonder what might have been (sure it's manipulative--but it works). But the rest of Bobby isn't nearly as compelling. Nor is it really about Kennedy, despite its obvious adulation of the man whom many thought would defeat Richard Nixon in the '68 general election. In the tradition of, say, an Irwin Allen disaster flick, we're invited into the lives of nearly two dozen folks, most of them at least partly fictional, who were at the Ambassador Hotel that June day, including guests, staff (kitchen workers, switchboard operators, management, etc.), campaign workers, reporters, and more. There are lots of movie stars in the cast, and some of them (Sharon Stone, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy) are very good. But caring about the quotidian minutiae of these people's existences is a chore, and Estevez crams so many issues into his story (the Vietnam war, drugs, alcoholism, voting irregularities, adultery, racism, immigration, communism… even L.A. Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale's streak of consecutive shutouts) and tries so obviously to establish parallels between then and now that too much of the movie feels gratuitous and forced. A warts-and-all film about Robert Kennedy's extraordinary life and career would be welcome. Unfortunately, Bobby isn't it. --Sam Graham