Monday, June 04, 2007

Bobby

The verdict: Atmospheric and languid in it's telling-style, this one is noble and heartfelt. Although it's ambitious in scope, it hits more targets than it misses. (Pardon the expression)

The rating: 6/10

Pulp Fiction really has a lot to answer for. These days, the 'vignette movie', or the many-plots-with-an-ensemble-cast style of film-making has become ever more popular. Audiences like this type of film because it caters to our zapping natures, we get a quick dose of one story then bang, onto the next, without any commercial break to boot. Actors like them because they get a star billing for fewer days on set (think Ocean's 11, 12, and 13). And least importantly, critics like them because they get to sound all clever by talking about things like 'narrative structures' and 'plot devices'. Everybody's happy.

But folks, I think this has all gone too far. Babel was a good example of the failings of this type of movie, where three average stories linked together by a gunshot. Nice idea in theory, but two of the stories were relatively uninteresting, to the point where I wanted to grab the remote control, and stop the director switching from the film I wanted to watch.

Thankfully, Bobby is a good example of the ensemble piece. It tells the stories of many different characters whose stories are inextricably linked to their movements around the Ambassador Hotel in 1968, a time of huge social and political upheaval throughout the United Sates. Dr. Martin Luther King has just been shot, and the country is at war in Vietnam while preparing to elect their next president.

Many of the characters in 'Bobby' are working at the hotel (Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Christian Slater, Freddy Rodriguez, Laurence Fishburne and William H. Macy to name but a few) but others are just using the facilities (Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Joshua Jackson, Demi Moore, Helen Hunt and even Emilio and his auld fella, himself a former president).

The individual stories are all framed by formative events, a marriage, an extra-marital affair, a reconciliation, a first drug experience to mention just a few, but the audience is not given any real reason to forge any real bond between the separate storylines until the movie is around an hour old.

Traditionally, the first act of a movie sets the scene, but Bobby never really stops this process, with every new all-star episode adding to the ambience and the atmosphere of the piece. The setting of the '60's is very well evoked with subtle touches, such as Heather Graham working in the hotel telephone exchange, manually connecting calls by plugging cables here and there in a manner that makes you wonder how many people actually got through to the right room... Ashton Kutcher, meanwhile, is an acid dealer, using his hotel room as the base of operations. Sharon Stone is helping prepare Lindsay Lohan's nails and Demi Moore's hair in the hotel salon, all the while aware that her husband is having an affair with a hotel employee. Christian Slater, in charge of the kitchens, is surprised to be fired for having racist attitudes. And all this happens in the build-up to Bobby Kennedy's arrival at the hotel that evening.

Each story is a straight-forward perspective of life in the 60's: the kids trying acid, the married couples having difficulties, the repressed black man struggling with his anger. The philanthropic message is delivered in subtle enough manners though, with only Anthony Hopkins once becoming a kind of a moral navigator for us. There is a bad moment with a chess game, but this moment is thankfully one of few where we given explicit moral education by the movie. Put it this way, it could've been worse, Aunt May could have turned up...

There is a 'device' linking the stories together at the end, but by then the message linking all these people together is clear enough for us to 'get it', without banging on too much about it. Which is just as well, because the message at the heart of 'Bobby' is a worthy, heartfelt plea for people to just, sort of, don't be angry, and if we all work at it, we can all get along, y'know?

There are stand-out performances in here, from Sharon Stone in particular, but also very surprisingly from Lindsay Lohan, who is genuinely watchable. (Say what!? - Ed). Demi Moore too is surprisingly good, and her scene with Sharon Stone is great.

The success of Bobby mainly depends on your willingness to buy into an ideological view of the world that cynics may view as romantic. However, given that this message is delivered via the voice Bobby Kennedy, with a few of his speeches given to us as in voice-over at various moments throughout the film, you may just be convinced. (Kennedy is still running for the presidential primaries as the events of the movie begin to unfold). These speeches are genuinely interesting, moving, and quite atypical of the common perception most of us would have about today's American leaders, so I reckon this part of the movie is convincing.

So, overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it, albeit with certain reservations. (Mainly because I'm a cynic at heart.) The all-star cast makes it watchable though, and what little schmaltz there is is reconciled by the fairly shocking ending.


1 comment:

Trista said...

I enjoyed your review. It is very good.

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