I love the magic of the cinema, but I don't get out too much anymore. Being a parent has that effect. To go see a movie in the theater at this point requires the kind of logistical planning that should be reserved solely for flights to the moon. But, since my parents took Adam off our hands for the weekend, last night Sami and I finally saw a movie we'd been dying to see since we first heard that it was going to be made: Emilo Estevez's Bobby.
As much as I'd love to, I'm not writing a movie review here. If you're inclined to read such things, you've probably already read 50 or so reviews of this film, and all of them were by people who know movies better than I do. And, if they're anything like the reviews I read, they all told the truth. This is a good film, sure, but technically speaking, not a great one. It aims for the best of Robert Altman, and misses ever so slightly. It is complicated, weaving unrelated stories together with some deft craftsmanship, but not quite seamless artistry. Some story lines are not well developed enough, others demand more time and attention than they reward.
It is an ambitious film, and ambition should be rewarded. But, anytime a filmmaker whose highest grossing films are the Mighty Ducks series suddenly gets artistic ambition, that ambition can too often get smacked down by reviewers who seem only to notice pretension when it comes from known commodities, directors whose work has already been devoured by the public and found a little less than filling.
I'm not qualified to say that Emilio Estevez has created an artistic masterpiece here. I simply don't know enough about the craft of film making to say how well he executed his vision. I don't have a discerning enough eye, I suppose, to see all of the mistakes that were undoubtedly there. Or, for that matter, to see all of the subtle moments of brilliance that never get noticed by people like me, who go to the movies to have an experience, to encounter the mythic, life changing power of a story.
But I can say this: When the movie was over, no one left the theater. As the credits rolled, we all stood up, reverently, and milled about it awed silence, tears welling in our eyes. The young women behind me wept openly. The group of "older" couples sitting just to the right of my wife sighed with their whole bodies, realizing that their rare trip to the movies was rewarded. (Sami has a movie-going principle: if you find yourself surrounded in the theater by people older than you, you're in for a good film. Older people don't waste their rare ventures into the theater on duds.)
Were we in awe of the film, or of the life memorialized by the film? I can't say. While Estevez's picture spent most of its time circling around the story of Bobby Kennedy's last days, telling the stories of those who would witness his final speech; the strength of the film is that the filmmaker's love of Kennedy shone through it. It stole its strength from its subject. The most powerful moments, in fact, were the video and audio clips of Kennedy spliced into the film.
Whether it succeeds as a work of art in the eyes of the guardians of artistic integrity, Bobby was and is the perfect historical-mythic vehicle for our times. So immersed in the turbulent sixties, it speaks perfectly to the turmoil we experience today. And it leaves us searching for the next Bobby, the next transcendent political figure to offer us hope.
Let us hope that someone like John Edwards or Barack Obama can rise to the challenge, offering us that ineffable mixture of vision and charisma that unites our fragmented nation.
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