Bobby (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie takes a trip back in time to see the murder of Robert Kennedy...
Bobby tells the story of an assorted group of characters who inhabit and work in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4th 1968. Their activities lead up to the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, who had just won the California Presidential primary and looked certain to win the race to the White House. The characters must come to terms with their relationships and their places in a world that stands on the edge of major change, just not the change they were all expecting.
What is clear before even taking the disc out of the case and putting it in the DVD player is that a huge number of actors and actresses were drawn to this movie by more than just money. The relatively low budget of $14 million could easily have been splashed by a major studio on any one of the headline stars at the peak of their career. Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore in particular have all commanded paycheques of this magnitude so what makes Bobby so special?
For a start, the opportunity for all of these stars to work together acted like a snowball effect once Anthony Hopkins was on board. This is neatly summed up by director Emilio Estevez’s interview in the Making of featurette when he says that within minutes of each other, Anthony Hopkins and William H Macy ran up to him on set and announced their excitement at working with each other. The screenplay covers the relationships between a large number of characters, but is rarely in a rush to get the exposition out of the way, allowing the heavyweights to bounce off each other. The scenes with Hopkins and Harry Belafonte have such an easy-going atmosphere that I could have watched a whole movie of them waxing lyrical and seeing Christian Slater holding his own against William H Macy made me wonder just how he ended up in Alone in the Dark and Hollow Man II.
Even though it’s safe to assume the political ideals of Robert Kennedy were instrumental in drawing some members of the cast to the movie, Emilio Estevez’s screenplay was also a critical factor. This was a labour of love for him and he spent many years trying to get it made even when he didn’t have a screenplay, but the story he tells is almost as compelling as the story of the man who inspired it. Unlike some movies based on historical events that attempt to conceal the moments of dramatic licence, Bobby positively revels in the fictionalisation of the story. Estevez draws inspiration from photographs of people and events of the day and works backwards, using these moments as the climaxes to the multiple story threads.
This of course means that aside from the archive footage, none of what happens on screen ever happened and a slightly greater leap of faith is necessary to buy into the story than would normally be necessary for a movie based on real events. Another complaint that could be levelled against Bobby is the degree of political intent behind the movie. Many of the storylines are based around issues that were close to Robert Kennedy’s heart, from the Vietnam war to racism, so it’s safe to say that people of differing political persuasions will take different things away from the movie (very diplomatically put if I do say so myself). Yes, it does have a pro-liberal slant but certainly no more than Crash, which I’d say is a comparable movie in structure and intention.
The only complaint I have about the movie is that as we reach the end of the second act and get ready for the assassination, Estevez needs to get a large number of happy endings out of the way and we end up with a substantial part of the movie that probably equated to a few pages of screenplay that said nothing more than ‘they smile at each other’. That said, I found Bobby to be very entertaining in a Sunday afternoon non-threatening kind of way, with clever editing used to blend filmed sequences with archive footage. It wears both its political and fictional hearts on its sleeve so I can fully understand why some may be turned off, but after telling a great story with such an impressive cast, I’m hoping Emilio Estevez gets back behind the camera soon to give us more of the same.
Bobby is presented with a 2.35:1 anamorphic picture. Looking back on a period in history with reverence, there’s no surprise that most of the scenes are bathed in a warm golden glow. It’s not quite to the same level as the sepia tones used throughout The Illusionist but works well at taking the viewer back in time. Only the scenes in the kitchen have a more clinical white tone. The archive footage (some of which also shows up in the documentary Hearts & Minds) is mainly used in montage sequences, although in the final scenes it is edited into the action. No major attempt is made to find a common ground between the quality of the two types of film, which is another example of how Emilio Estevez has no qualms about separating truth from his fictionalisations. Although there are imperfections in the stock footage, I couldn’t find any problems with the rest of the film, with strong colours, good detail and no noticeable areas of interference in the darker scenes.
In a movie that focuses on a large number of people, it’s important to make sure the viewer appreciates the hustle and bustle of a busy hotel and the 5.1 surround track does that very well, most of all in the kitchen scenes. Some scenes move slower than others, although the score changes at times to increase urgency at certain moments and keep the story moving. The surround effects, music and dialogue are all pitched at appropriate levels and while this may not be a track that will have your neighbours banging on your wall and asking you to turn it down, it certainly enhances the viewer’s appreciation of the events on screen.
The disc opens with skippable trailers for Hannibal Rising, The Illusionist and The Painted Veil. The theatrical trailer for Bobby is also included and there are two featurettes available. The first is a standard ‘Making of’ that includes all the expected interviews and behind-the-scenes footage but goes into decent detail about Estevez’s motivation for making the movie and he recounts a great anecdote about how he overcame writer’s block. The second featurette shows a panel of eyewitnesses from the Ambassador Hotel and they recount their views on Robert Kennedy and their memories of his assassination.
For those who are willing to put their disbelief on hold for a couple of hours, there’s a lot to enjoy in Bobby. It’s a well-written and inventive movie acted out by a dream Hollywood cast and offers as much entertainment as political sentiment. The extra features are slight but do complement the movie well and enhance the viewing experience by drawing attention to the intricacies of the work that has gone into creating a fictional account of a real historical event.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th June 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Making of Bobby, Eyewitness Accounts From The Ambassador Hotel, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Heather Graham, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, William H Macy, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood
Length: 112 minutes
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