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Bobby

Fragments of a Terrible Day

The tumultuous year of 1968 shaped and shattered many lives around the world, but in one particular moment, the sudden killing of an inspirational politician derailed the outcome of a crucial presidential election and changed the political guard in America for decades. An all-star cast usually ruins a movie. However, in the case of Bobby, it is the film's foundation.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Bobby imagines the hours leading up to the fateful night that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4th. Focusing on over a dozen unknown people who just happen to be in the same place at the same time, Estevez examines the effect that someone famous has on them. It all plays out like the calm before a storm.

RFK himself appears only in newsreels and television broadcasts -- a smart move on the part of Estevez because he remains a genuine lofty presence: a man with an admirable command of the English language whose words reach out as a uniter, not a divider.

Bobby is not just about history; there are telling parallels between events then and now. Race relations and sexual inequality may involve largely different issues today, but the presence of an unpopular war and acts of terrorism are disturbingly similar. Some connections are subtle, while others are more deliberate -- such as instructions from one campaign worker encouraging election day volunteers to watch for “dangling chads”.

All in all, it's a haunting film with stirring moments and only a few scenes that milk the emotional content. The sap starts to run thick when the predictable Simon & Garfunkel tune, "Sound of Silence”, plays on the soundtrack. Happily Kennedy's own words arrive soon after to engage the brain again.

The cast is a real Who's Who in Hollywood, including such heavyweights as Harry Belafonte and Anthony Hopkins as inconsequential but pleasant retired doormen, and William H. Macy and Laurence Fishburne as the hotel's manager and head chef, respectively.

The rest of the cast contributes enough interesting, and sometimes interconnected, characters to keep things moving -- whether it's Heather Graham's phone operator, Ashton Kutcher's drug dealer, Lindsay Lohan's June bride and Elijah Wood's groom (getting married to prevent him from serving in Vietnam), Demi Moore's mean drunk of a singer and director Estevez's browbeaten hubby, Christian Slater's kitchen manager, Sharon Stone's hairdresser, or even Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt's vacationing couple. Relative newcomers Nick Cannon and Freddy Rodriguez are real standouts, as an idealistic campaign worker and kitchen worker.

Bobby is definitely nostalgic but it also attempts to inspire people who never lived through this country's previous tempestuous era to imagine a time when people had hope about the ability of political will to change society for the better. We'll find out how successful the film was when we elect our next president.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars