NYT review of the new movie about RFK: Bobby

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With “Bobby,” Emilio Estevez, writer and director (as well as one of a huge ensemble of actors), sets himself a large and honorable task. It is important to appreciate this in spite of his movie’s evident shortcomings.

Intentions do count for something, and Mr. Estevez’s seem to me entirely admirable. He tries, by means of the familiar technique of weaving together story lines connected only by coincidences of time and place, to produce a feeling of collective life. Beyond that, he tries to link the intimate stories of nearly two dozen characters to a large and consequential public event — the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy — and to capture the heady combination of anxiety, anger, hope and idealism that supposedly characterized the United States in 1968.

All of the action in “Bobby” takes place at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4, 1968, the day Kennedy, a late entry into the presidential race, won California’s Democratic primary. (It was also the day the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale took the mound to attempt his sixth consecutive shutout, an event that competes with the primary election for the attention of some of the film’s characters.) After midnight, as Kennedy made his way from a ballroom through the hotel’s kitchen, he was fatally shot, a calamity that casts its shadow backward over the more mundane doings of the day. In every scene of Mr. Estevez’s film, portent hangs heavy in the air.

The candidate himself is a tangential figure, present mainly through archival news clips and audio recordings, in which he talks, with a quiet eloquence that sounds almost outlandish to present-day ears, about the problems of poverty, prejudice, pollution and war. (The moments before the shooting are filmed, disconcertingly, from his point of view.) His assassin also barely figures in the story. Instead “Bobby” uses both Kennedy’s candidacy and his murder as a kind of prism, through which the aspirations and confusions of a cross section of Americans might be filtered....

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