Opening 8 Mar 2007
My grandmother once told me the assassination of JFK was shocking as it stunned the world, but the death of Bobby Kennedy “ripped the heart out of America.” 1968 was a volatile year propelled by violence, protest and idealistic hopes pinned onto a presidential candidate who spoke passionately about his dream for the betterment of America by focusing on the individual rights of humanity. Perhaps romanticized by an untimely death, RFK’s extinguished potential sets an extremely high bar for politicians to hurdle even today, forty years later.
Quite a lot to portray for any writer/director/producer, especially for Emilio Estevez, a former Brat-packer (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Breakfast Club), who was probably still in diapers the day Bobby was shot. Trying to capture the end of an era on film, Estevez reveals a slice of life through 22 characters, five of which end up shot by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel after Kennedy’s California primary win. Employees, hotel guests, and political aides are shown going about their daily business on the day of the assassination, portrayed by an ensemble of not-quite-A-list actors who fail to tap their best acting potential: Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte, Christian Slater, Heather Graham, etc.. Although the stories are interesting enough, all of them are fictional with the exception of a young war bride (Lindsay Lohan) who marries a school chum (Elijah Wood) to keep him out of Vietnam. Estevez takes on alcoholism, political activism, drugs, war, racism, adultery, depression, ennui, AND social pecking order, but comes up lacking the one ingredient to hold it together: passion. Although we see plenty of RFK footage with very long speech voice-overs, somehow the connection isn’t strong enough between these random lives, Robert Kennedy and the momentum of a nation stopped in its tracks on that fateful day.
The image that is burned in my mind is based on the actual photo of the busboy with Kennedy’s bloodied head in his hands; in my opinion, the kitchen crew shows the strongest, most realistic storyline in the movie (fictional or not), thanks to fine acting of Laurence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, and Jacob Vargas.
Make-up, hair, and costumes are all first rate (with the exception of Ashton Kutcher’s unbelievably clean hippie) and filmed with an thoughtful eye from cinematographer Michael Barrett, much to the dismay of Sharon Stone’s/Demi Moore’s/Helen Hunt’s wrinkles and the multitude of Lindsay Lohan’s freckles. (Kirstan Böttger)