BEFORE: "Room" gets me to this film, with William H. Macy carrying over, and I think I figured that if I could get to this one, with a near all-star cast, I could go just about anywhere. There are so many stars in this film, I didn't even notice that I could have linked here from "Drugstore Cowboy". But since I snuck in two more films in-between, maybe that's for the best.
THE PLOT: The story of the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, shot June 5, 1968 in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and 22 people in the hotel whose lives were never the same.
AFTER: Perhaps I should treat this as a combination of "Jackie" and "Vantage Point", which was another film about an assassination told through the viewpoints of different people who were nearby. But this story is real - sort of. For the most part the filmmakers did not use real-life stories, though it's true that the person closest to RFK when he was shot was a hotel busboy. But it's tricky when you use the names of real people in a movie, if the filmmakers don't secure the rights to each person's name and likeness, which can be expensive, then they open themselves up to litigation over the way those people are portrayed, which can be even more expensive. You'll see a note at the end of this film that points out that the Ambassador Hotel did have a doorman with the same name as the doorman character in this film, but that man retired three years earlier in 1965, so therefore any relation is merely a coincidence.
The stopgap measure these days, if you want to give any character a first and last name, which they may accidentally share with a real person, is to find someone with that name and have them sign a contract that licenses the use of their name for a small sum, like a dollar. That way nobody else with that name can come forward and file a lawsuit over the use of that name. But that wouldn't work in the case of the film "Bobby", if you name the busboy character Juan Romero, it would obviously be done with the intent of portraying the real busboy with that name, and even a license with another person named Juan Romero wouldn't hold up in court - so here the busboy is just named José. (We used to play a fun game at my old job, if there was a TV commercial with a character's first and last name, we'd look up the real person with that name and thus figure out which ad agency had that account. Look up an Energizer battery commercial from the year 2000 with a candidate named Bob Fremgen, and you'll see what I mean. The real Bob Freemen was a creative director on the account.)
But the RFK assassination was just a bit before my time - I was born about 4 months later, so I grew up in a world with only Ted Kennedy in office. It was years before I understood who JFK and RFK were, and what their impacts were on the world. Obviously we'll never know the path not taken, what things these two brothers might have accomplished if their lives had not been cut short. Some people obviously believe that even though Kennedy's inaugural speech promised to "pay any price, bear any burden", that he still could have ended the Vietnam War faster than Johnson did. And then there's a very strong implication that when Robert Kennedy started running for President, it was on something of an anti-war platform, so people similarly believe that he would have ended the war sooner if he had been elected. But we will never know this for sure.
But here is what I did learn tonight - Robert Kennedy was shot on June 6, 1968, just three days after Andy Warhol was shot. (Had I known this, I might have programmed this right after "I Shot Andy Warhol"). And because Robert Kennedy's campaign came to an end, the Democratic nominee in the 1968 election was Hubert Humphrey, and then Richard Nixon became President. So you can perhaps see a sort of domino effect here, and wonder what might have been without Tricky Dick, Watergate, Gerald Ford and so on. Shrine Sirhan, the man who shot RFK, was an Arab Palestinian born in Jerusalem, who moved to New York and California but retained Jordanian citizenship. He felt betrayed by Kennedy's support of Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, but was also still upset about the formation of the country of Israel, back in 1948. The night before June 6, Sirhan had witness a Zionist Pro-Israel parade, and then drank quite a bit as a result.
We might also wonder why the most famous shootings of the 1960's - the two Kennedys, along with Martin Luther King Jr. - didn't have more of an effect on gun control. What happened there? Why did the loss of three of the country's most beloved public figures not result in some more effective kind of legislation that would prevent this type of thing from taking place in the future? Because years later Reagan was shot, and then later on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, and then last week there was that shooting last week at the Congressional baseball game where the House Majority Whip was shot. I realize these incidents are just a drop in the OCEAN that is gun violence in this country, I bring these up as I wonder why the politicians aren't more keen on gun control, since they've also been targeted. So congressmen will vote themselves pay raises and free medical care, but they won't take steps to protect everyone from guns, including themselves? It doesn't make sense.
(UPDATE: A little research tells me that 14 members of the U.S. Congress have been killed while holding office. But three of those died in duels, those don't really count, right? That seems sort of voluntary. Another 10 members of Congress have been wounded - 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, and five were injured during the 1954 Capitol shooting. I guess seeing as how guns helped form this country, they're too much a part of our history? History, apparently, is written by the winners, or those with the best aim.)
Other facts I learned - 5 bystanders were injured, in addition to Robert Kennedy, in that crowded hotel kitchen. (Not the same 5 people seen injured in this film, but I covered that above...) How many shots did this assassin take, in order to hit RFK 3 times, and also another 5 people? But he was tackled and disarmed by close friends of Sen. Kennedy, including George Plimpton and Rosey Grier. Oh, and I learned that the Senator McCarthy that lost to RFK in the California primary was Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota, and was not related to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was from Wisconsin. (But you can see how that might be confusing if they never state his first name in this film...)
The film "Bobby" chose to focus on fictional characters, who in total represent a cultural pastiche of 1968 - we see a woman marrying a young soldier she barely knows so he'll be less likely to be sent to Vietnam, her hair stylist who's married to the hotel's manager, who's having an affair with a hotel switchboard operator, a kitchen manager with racist ideas who ends up listening to a Dodgers game with the Mexican busboys, two campaign volunteers who seek out a drug dealer and take acid for the first time, a couple of young idealist campaign managers, a well-off married couple who are apparently campaign donors, and an alcoholic singer performing at the hotel whose husband argues with her agent. Finally, there's a Czech reporter who's there to get an interview with Sen. Kennedy, so apparently the Czech people are not known for their good timing.
These people take part in various activities in and around the hotel on the day of June 6, and they interact or bounce off each other in various ways. But while this may be interesting, I'm not sure if it should be the main focus of the film, not to this extent, anyway. I mean, what's more important at the end of the day, the shooting of a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, or a bride getting her hair done? Should the marital troubles of a hotel manager, or a couple of campaign volunteers taking drugs, be put on a par with such an important historical event? A couple of guys talking about baseball seems to be given equal importance as well, a woman who forgot to pack the right color of shoes, or a singer getting drunk - to what end? I'm not convinced that this approach gives us more insight into this historical event than, say, following RFK around for the same time period would have.
Perhaps this film is supposed to remind us that the little things in our life that we do to keep ourselves busy - playing tennis, listening to a baseball game, taking drugs, playing chess - they're very trivial, and they're obviously not as important as voting, or paying attention to the candidates running for office. Whatever you think you'd like to do on Election Day that isn't voting, for God's sake, put it on hold for one day and go make an informed selection, because we've all now seen what happens when the majority of people can't be bothered to take the time. If that's the message of the film then I can get behind it, but something tells me that I'm doing most of the work here to fill in the blanks and find some meaning. It's just as easy to think that the message of this film is that despite people's best intentions and efforts, everything good eventually gets ruined and turns to crap, and everyone dies, even the good ones.
Wikipedia mentioned the similarity to Robert Altman's film "Nashville", another ensemble piece with interrelating/intersecting characters whose plot revolves around a political convention/campaign. I haven't seen that one yet, but it's on my watchlist, and I'm trying to get to it. There's no direct link, so it may take some time for me to get there.
NITPICK POINT: I'm also not convinced that anyone in 1968 would perform the song "Louie Louie" in a slowed-down, ironic lounge style. That seems more like what someone would do in either the early 1980's or 2000's, times when lounge music made notable comebacks, and then it was hip to take rock songs from the 1950's and swankily them. But in 1968, I think most people didn't even know what the lyrics to "Louie Louie" were - nobody funded a complete and proper study of what the Kingsmen were singing until the mid-1970's, I think, so everyone just assumed that they were saying things that were really obscene. (I'm only partially kidding here, the very real FBI had a 31-month inconclusive, fruitless investigation into the myth about the nature of the lyrics of this song. Look it up if you don't believe me.)
Also starring Christian Slater (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Sharon Stone (last seen in "The Specialist"), Demi Moore (last seen in "Forsaken"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "St. Elmo's Fire"), Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Catch-22"), Helen Hunt (last seen in "Dr. T & the Women"), Heather Graham (last seen in "Drugstore Cowboy"), Freddy Rodriguez (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson (last seen in "Apt Pupil"), Ashton Kutcher (last seen in "Just Married"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Elijah Wood (last seen in "The Faculty"), Lindsay Lohan (last seen in "The Holiday"), Harry Belafonte, Brian Geraghty (last seen in "Jarhead"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "Factory Girl"), Svetlana Metkina, Joy Bryant, Spencer Garrett (last seen in Blackhat"), Jacob Vargas (last seen in "The 33"), David Kobzantsev, with cameos from Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Our Brand Is Crisis"), Orlando Seale.
RATING: 5 out of 10 hotel bathrobes