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BOBBY – Mark Isham

November 17, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

“Hey, good evening ladies and gents, it’s time for a great big exciting night of entertainment, with all your favorite stars! Along the way, you’ll have some laughs, shed a couple tears, maybe learn a couple of things, and most of all, see a lot of the beautiful faces you know and love! We now take you live to the Ambassador Hotel for a great evening of entertainment! Oh, and you’ll also see Robert Kennedy get killed.”

Is it just me, or does “Bobby” feel way too much like “Grand Hotel 1968”, or perhaps an Irwin Allen movie? I’m not criticizing the fact that a politically-charged film dealing with a serious event in American history has a huge, star-studded cast, but I am criticizing the way the movie uses them. Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” is, at it’s best, a vivid snapshot of a particular time in America. At it’s worst, it’s a cheap love letter to all things Kennedy, paired with some silly soap operas as dramatic filler.

There’s dozens of stars in the film, and nearly as many subplots, all about people who were staying at the Ambassador hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was killed. Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte sit in the lobby playing chess and reminiscing about old times. William H. Macy is the hotel manager who is trying to keep things smooth with his wife (Sharon Stone), his mistress (Heather Graham), and his hotel. Lindsey Lohan plays a girl who is marrying a young soldier (Elijah Wood) in order to keep him from being sent to Vietnam. Laurence Fishburne and Freddy Rodriguez discuss race and baseball working in the kitchen, while the racist food and beverage manager (Christian Slater) storms around furiously because he just got fired. A bedraggled husband (Estevez himself) tries to cope with his demanding aging-pop-star wife (Demi Moore). Helen Hunt plays an insecure woman, and Martin Sheen plays her husband. A Czechoslovakian reporter (Svetlana Metkina) desperately tries to get an interview with Kennedy. A couple of Kennedy campaign workers (Nick Cannon and Joshua Jackson) go around collecting votes. A couple of straight-laced teens (Shia Lebouf and Brian Geraghty) have all sorts of delirious fantasies after getting some acid from a crazy dealer played by Ashton Kutcher (who I swear must have been auditioning for a part in the “Tenacious D” movie).

Mixed here and there between these are bits of Kennedy’s most idealistic speeches, underscored with the usual noble trumpet solos (more on that below). The funny thing is, everybody in the film loves Kennedy. Every single character, even the racist food and beverage guy. I was waiting for at least one minor character to stand up and say, “Well, dammit, I’m voting for Nixon!” But no, every single person in the movie loves Kennedy without question, because that’s what Estevez wants. His point here is that the death of Robert Kennedy was the final blow that crushed America after the deaths of Martin Luther King and JFK. Sure, but he strains way too hard to get us to buy into it, even going so far as to have minority characters say things like “Kennedy is the only white man I trust,” and so on. 

Estevez makes every attempt to push our emotional buttons. Sometimes it works, such as in the surprisingly tender storyline involving Lohan and Wood, as they suddenly begin to realize that they actually love each other despite the original intentions of their marriage plans. However, he pushes too hard most of the time, leaving the audience feeling irritated and manipulated.

The film’s score by Mark Isham only enhances this problem. It’s a fine score technically, to be sure, but the oh-so-noble trumpet solos (performed by Tim Morrison) that underscore most of the Kennedy-related scenes in the film simply make whatever he is saying seem trite and phony. The same scoring method was employed in another movie involved Robert Kennedy, Danny DeVito’s “Hoffa”. In that film, it was the other way around, with trumpets underscoring the noble speeches of one of Kennedy’s greatest political enemies, but it didn’t work there, either. The rest of the score works much better, with Isham’s trademark keyboard work and gentle underscore serving numerous scenes very well. As with another Isham-scored film this year (“Invincible”), the time period of “Bobby” is reflected by a number of popular songs from the era. Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and others are among the featured artists. An original gospel song called “Never Gonna Break My Faith” (co-written by Bryan Adams!) plays over the end credits, and is performed by Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, and the Harlem Boys choir. The soundtrack album includes two score cues by Isham, but one of them is performed underneath a five-minute speech by Kennedy.

There are elements of quality to be found in “Bobby”, and a few genuinely poignant moments. Plus, Estevez never gets lost amidst a murky sea of subplots. Still, the emotional manipulation will be a concern for some viewers, the sheer silly nature of certain elements will bother some, and the fact that the movie has very little to do with Robert Kennedy will confuse others. An uncomfortably entertaining and trite portrait of a good man’s death.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (3:56)
  • The Ambassador Hotel (2:47)
  • Samantha Unpacks (1:25)
  • No One Left But Bobby (2:24)
  • Cobbler (2:13)
  • Virginia and Miriam (2:04)
  • Switchboard (3:26)
  • A Chivalrous Act (2:27)
  • More Than the Things In Our Lives (1:33)
  • We Don’t Do This (3:16)
  • Annulment (0:53)
  • Disenchantment (3:10)
  • Casey Welcomes Kennedy (1:58)
  • The Mindless Menace of Violence (8:58)

Running Time: 40 minutes 30 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-33962 (2006)

Music composed by Mark Isham. Conducted and orchestrated by Conrad Pope. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy and Robert Fernandez. Edited by Sally Boldt and Stephen Lotwis. Score produced by Mark Isham.

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