April 2007

Arts & Letters

‘Bobby’

By Rachel Hills

To people growing up in an era of interest-rate elections and ten-second sound-bites, odes to politicians of times past can seem as implausible as they are inspiring. Was Paul Keating really the visionary portrayed in the recent musical about his career? (For that matter, is Gough Whitlam really worthy of having a pop group lovingly bear his name?) If the current state of affairs is anything to go by, it's easier to believe that such characterisations are rose-hued baby-boomer distortions, rather than accurate reflections of the past.

Bobby, a re-imagining of the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, avoids improbability by combining its fictional narrative with documentary footage of the American senator's public appearances and speeches. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, the film tells the stories of 24 fictional characters in and around the Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles, on the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot. These personal stories make the politics more approachable, putting Kennedy's campaign for the presidency in context.

Estevez draws his characters well, especially given the size of the cast. William H Macy's hotel manager is good-hearted but flawed in a way that is painfully realistic; Freddy Rodriguez (of Six Feet Under fame) is convincing as a young kitchen worker battling racism; and Lindsay Lohan, playing a young bride-to-be marrying a classmate to keep him from going to Vietnam, breaks from her off-screen party-girl persona. But the structure has its weaknesses: for all the depth of these characters, there are interludes in the film's two hours that drag. Bobby has most impact when the principal subject is on screen, and the final, tragic scenes are when it really hits home.

For those who were around in 1968, Bobby may ultimately seem a depressing reminder of failed dreams and lost idealism. For those who are only now discovering that era, though, the film offers hope for what politics might once again offer.

Cover: April 2007

April 2007

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