Thursday, June 14, 2007

Film Nerd: "Bobby"

Emilio Estevez, the guy who made a movie with his brother Chuck called “Men at Work” about two fellows in what Tony Soprano would call the “waste disposal business” has directed a film about Robert Kennedy called “Bobby.”

But really, and all kidding aside, he’s done a very nice job. We don’t do box office here at highwayscribery and don’t care how much money “Bobby” made, glad enough the project could draw the Bill Macys and Sharon Stones and Harry Belafontes of this world.

A little umph helps in getting the word out about a fading personality like Bobby Kennedy.

highwayscribery just re-ran its post reserved for anniversaries of his death, this the 39th, just a few days ago on June 5.

You might say our partiality, passion really, for this man and what he stood for naturally lends itself to a positive reception, and you might be wrong. Such things can cut both ways when a topic or historical personality becomes one’s private property, part of an personal pantheon of heroes. If it goes against the grain of our preconceived and comfortable understanding of things there can be hell to pay.

Estevez opted for the creation of an ensemble piece, following a collection of characters gathered at the now disappeared Ambassador Hotel on the eve of Kennedy’s greatest political triumph - a 1968 Democratic primary victory in California - and the last, worst day of his invaluable life.

The closing credits claim these folks are loosely based on stories of actual people present on that fateful day. That’s fine. Plato reminds us that poets are liars and the scribe has lied plenty to make a good story better.

There are a few too many vectors to track so that things get kind of message-y and on-point since there’s little time for leisurely character development. Some you never get around to caring about like Emilio’s dad, Martin Sheen, and his relationship with a much younger Helen Hunt.

Even by Hollywood standards, the age difference is a little hard to buy. The scribe once had a romantic relationship with someone 15 years his junior, but that was in the flaming blossom of his manhood and DO YOU CARE?

But the business of the Mexican busboys, missing Don Drysdale’s shutout-record game-night because Kennedy’s in town and all hands are needed on board, works well. Truth be told, the scribe has never been able to tell who is really a good actor from a semi-good one, but the guys handling these parts seem to do just fine.

Since you’re asking, the scribe’s measure of good acting is if you forget who you’re watching and by that standard Sharon Stone absolutely steals the show with her racoon-eyed makeup and sunken face of devastation at the news her husband Bill Macy is cheating on her.

Demi Moore’s good, but “drunk-nasty-smoking” is not exactly a stretch for Hollywood types. Ashton Kutcher’s drug-dealing hippy seemed a bit canned, but certainly not grating. Heather Graham isn’t given enough room to do much good, but she can’t do much bad in the scribe’s eyes.

Anthony Hopkins is great in a single moment. A jaded old hotel hand who has seen them come and go, his face literally raises off its jowls in tempered joy at a simple brush with the senator and candidate as he rushes through the door. As a hyphenate, actor-director, Estevez is primed to capture this moment well.

Emilio is sympathetic, too, as the bruised husband (wife?) of the scowling Moore character. The two young guys playing the Kennedy volunteers who skip the final day of campaigning and drop acid with Kutchner are not as classically good as Stone, but are dead-on fantastic in the portrayal of loopy trippers throwing a television out the window and just nailing it with their tennis court hijinks. Great stuff.

The acid trip is something of a Hollywood institution, of course. The first one that comes to mind is that in “Easy Rider” when the boys dance with their N’awleans tarts through the cemetery; Peter Fonda kissing the face of a statue. There may have been others prior, but that’s the standard-setter.

They typically work on the usage of distorted cameras lens, colored filters, wacky angles, creepy extended voice tracks. In “Believe in Eve,” a feature-length film scripted by the scribe, director Javier Gomez Serrano put the mushroom-addled Juan Roman in an Orange County corporate park designed by a famous Japanese guy (Noguchi Plaza?) and successfully conjured a desertscape peopled with haunting images not technically toyed with, rather effectively placed in incongruous surroundings and set to acting in unfamiliar temporal sequences.

The one in “Bobby” is an excellent edition to the mini-genre. It’s most enduring image is that encountered by the trippers as they open the hotel door and are bombarded with images of planes dropping bombs and strafing Vietnamese villages.

Visually exciting as druggy juxtaposition, it is effective as narrative by getting at the root of what was bothering that generation and what drove them to drugs (in many instances).

A few years ago an excellent documentary on The Weathermen was released and it too drives home the obsession young people of that time had for Viet Nam, the horror it stirred up in them.

In the end, “Bobby” is a bummer and that’s not the fault of Estevez so much as that of Sirhan Sirhan, who robbed us of so much.

The final scene, by obligation, is of the shooting and its wrenching aftermath. A number of the film's characters are caught in the crossfire. We watch their stunned expressions and feel the pain in their perforated guts as Estevez cuts in pace to the pandemonium surrounding.

Of course, the most arresting parts of the film involve the footage of Bobby himself, the pure intelligence with which he spoke. The comparison alongside today’s canned pols is more than a little’s devastating.

As they pull Kennedy toward the ambulance and his long night of darkness, the director cuts back and forth between his ensemble, and subtly spliced real footage, to the soundtrack of Bobby’s speech following Martin Luther King’s murder.

Was Kennedy a dark prophet? Were those times merely as cynical as these? Or has his relevance merely increased since his death?

You decide:

"This is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America, which again stains our land and everyone of our lives. It is not the concern of any one race, the victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old. Famous and unknown they are, most important of all, human beings who other human beings loved and needed. No one, no matter where he lives or what he does can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours. Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily; whether it is done in the name of the law, or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence... whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this then the whole nation is degraded. Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force, too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. But this much is clear, violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls. When you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs, or the policies that he pursues, when we teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family than you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation, but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered. We learn at the last to look at our brothers as aliens, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in commonwealth, but not in a common effort, we learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. Our lives on this planet our too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot banish it with a program nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers. That they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek as do we nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness; winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can. Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn at the least to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

No comments: