Emilio Estevez has had to struggle to earn his directorial credentials. He suffered through the embarassing Wisdom, the critically despised Men at Work (A film I always loved), and the direct to cable market for Rated-X. However with Rated X, he earned something yet unknown to him as a filmmaker, some credibility. The film was an interesting period piece, and got a great deal of favorable press. However it took a full six years for Estevez to be able to make another feature, and my god it was worth the wait. Ironically it was six years between Aronofsky's features and the disappointment there was almost unparalleled. Estevez realized what seems like a life's ambition with this film, a compelling character piece that ranks with the best of Altman, Anderson, and even that definitive star studded extravaganza, Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel (playfully quoted and referenced here).
Estevez is reaching higher than most filmmakers ever do, and certainly not a filmmaker with the limited success he has had so far. Yet Estevez has assembled an unbelievable cast, and rather than jump out with "look who's in this" instead we get everybody quickly. Estevez doesn't spring new movie stars on us far into the film, although not all are noticed in the first moments. We do however get a glimpse at nearly everyone who's going to be in the film during the opening false alarm fire call. It is clever expository, and the next day he takes us into the world of the hotel, much as if we were an employee overseeing operations. The camera moves around, a lot, and we're never too constricted. Rather than attempt an ambitious biopic on his title character, instead Estevez takes the focus on everyone around indirectly, or directly touched by his death, and sets the time frame at 24 hours (hence the fire drill). So rather than be ambitious with his life, instead he's ambitious with his final day. Allowing all footage of Kennedy to be archival and the main thrust being on everyone else.
The whole mixing live action with archival footage is nothing new for us, and the transitions aren't handled too poorly, but we're certainly aware of them. Like any film of the period though good use of the time's music is made, and all accurate I might add. I was also impressed with the reference to seeing Planet of the Apes on acid, a film released roughly three months before Kennedy was shot. Rarely I must say has any film with a predetermined outcome been so successful. Of course Kennedy get shot, we know this, and the only flaw I found in the film is the arbitrary shot of the assassin before hand. He walks into the hotel (brushing past Estevez the actor) and based on the look on his face we know this is the guy. I was a little disappointed at this, as it seemed ultra-obvious, but it was an attempt to be clever, and not altogether wasted, considering it does help to have at least one prior shot of the assailant.
The intertwining plot threads can be troublesome. However most of the subplots are endearing enough, or with good enough actors/performers to make you not worry about it. The run time on this film flew by, and although not all were as interesting as Freddie Rodriguez's Dodgers tickets or Demi Moore's alcohlic lounge singer (for which she did her own half way decent singing), but the actors make them work. Ashton Kutcher is good in small doses, and playing the drug dealing guru he works. His neophyte's however make their "trip" work because of some interesting camera tricks, that recalled some of the drug enduced scenes in Rated X. The point is, Estevez creates enough compasion for these characters so that when the shooting takes place, and several of these bystanders are hurt, you feel for them, as much if not more than Kennedy. After all Kennedy was only spoken of in this film, whereas the bystanding victims are the ones we've really come to know through the film. Yet Estevez idealizes Kennedy to the point that we feel upon his death that someone potentially great has been taken, and we can't figure out why.
Great use of music, and although used in The Graduate (another film referenced) I'd say that Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was truly profound here, and absolutely perfect. The ending of the film is something I don't really want to discuss, but Estevez uses a speech of Kennedy's that's so absolutely perfect that you could never imagine Estevez the screenwriter ever able to come up with a more perfect epitaph in a million years of writing. At this point in time I came to one realization. That was that Bobby is the best film I've seen this year.