Despite Bobby's much-ballyhooed all-star cast, the film's strengths are delivered by a two-man show: The passion and restraint of writer-director-costar Emilio Estevez, and the understated yet overwhelming presence of Robert F. Kennedy himself.
In his effort to recall and contrast the enthusiastic optimism that surrounded the presidential campaign of RFK with the heartbreaking, illusion-shattering reality of his assassination, Estevez wisely bypasses conventional biopic storytelling or even conspiracy-minded cinematic razzle-dazzle of JFK. Instead he tells the tale from the ground level, focusing on a large, disparate cast of characters of differing social status some interconnected, some not who've assembled at Los Angeles' swank Ambassador Hotel on the fateful day in 1968, and as a group they're both as troubled as that turbulent year and still each clinging to hope in their own individual ways. There's the Dodger-loving busboy (Freddy Rodriguez) contending with a brooding, racist kitchen boss (Christian Slater) and bolstered by an eloquent chef (Laurence Fishburne); the head of staff (William H. Macy) who's sleeping with a comely switchboard girl (Heather Graham) while seemingly happily married to the hotel's compassionate beauty salon operator (Sharon Stone); she in turn counsels both a young teen bride-to-be (Lindsay Lohan) marrying a friend (Elijah Wood) to protect him from service in Vietnam and the faded, boozy lounge singer (Demi Moore) whose self-destructive cruelty alienates her subservient husband (Emilio Estevez); a veteran hotel manager (Anthony Hopkins) and his retiring crony (Harry Belafonte) reflect on their lifetime of experience, while an idealistic Kennedy campaigner (Joshua Jackson) dispatches two volunteers (Shia LaBeoufand Brian Geraghty) to recruit last-minute voters but they head off on an acid trip with a high-minded hippie (Ashton Kutcher); the disconnected May-December couple (Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt), the black campaign volunteer (Nick Cannon) who's already lost too many leaders; the crusading Czechoslovakian journalist (Lenka Janacek) scrambling for an interview with the candidate; and Kennedy himself, appearing in news and archival footage, the most eerily effective presence in the film.
While such an A-list ensemble of actors initially seems like a director's dream team, they are also responsible for the biggest hurdle the film faces. While most films have a handful of stars and the luxury of time to help audiences forget their celebrity status and embrace them as the characters they're playing, Bobby keeps shoehorning more and more famous faces into short scenes, which makes it somewhat more difficult to shake the initial distraction of "Hey, there's so-and-so!" Some of skilled castparticularly Hopkins, Belafonte, Macy, Sheen, Hunt, Rodriguez and Fishburnemake the transition easier, but with others who are known more as "stars" than actors (Moore, Stone, Lohan and Kutcher), it takes longer to adjust. And that's not to say those performances are bad: Moore is terrific, reminding us more of her innate watchability on screen than her well-preserved looks and much-younger husband; Stone is in top form despite her overly dowdy get-up; and Kutcher shows his skill with a slightly subtler form of comedy than he usually delivers. Lohan is only passable, however, trying too self-consciously to appear vulnerable. Still other performances are revelations: Cannon shows as-yet-unseen depth and fire, Jackson displays a Clooney-esque self-assured poise and Estevez smartly underplays his role.
Understatement definitely seems to be Estevez's watchword. He typically eschews an overly flashy cinematic approach and simply allows his actors to bring the scenes to emotional life, even as he takes great pains to get the period details just right. When he does bring his technical filmmaking savvy more obviously to the forefront, primarily in the scenes that integrate real scenes of Kennedy into the story, it's especially potent. Indeed, the first three-quarters of the film are well-shot, well-acted vignettes that evoke an era, but it's the thoughtful and clever integration of RFK into the third act that unifies and ultimately gives each of the storiesand the film as a wholegenuine dramatic power. Ultimately Estevez uses Kennedy's own words to deliver a solemn, respectful eulogy for the man and a hopeful call to keep the man's dreams alive.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.