Unfortunate Son

Bobby. Emilio Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Ashton Kutcher, William H. Macy, Lindsay Lohan, and Demi Moore star in a film written and directed by Estevez.

Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg

Every movie has a purpose: to entertain, to give information, to persuade, or to inspire action, to name a few. And Bobby fulfills its purpose brilliantly — once you figure out what that purpose is: to give context to RFK’s assassination, what he represented, and why his death was so tragic; but even more importantly, to evoke in the viewer the emotional impact of this historic event.

In fact, the film isn’t really about Bobby Kennedy at all, except in an abstract way. (His only appearance in the film is through actual newsreels — no actor plays Bobby.) Instead, it centers on the people at the Ambassador Hotel the night Kennedy was assassinated.

At first, the film comes off as nothing more than a pastiche of characters representing 1968. Though engaging, and though each of the actors gave reputable performances, there was no clear central story, rendering the movie almost pointless.

Luckily, the characters are all engaging. What the movie lacks in clear plotting, it makes up for in building emotional investment in these characters and what Bobby Kennedy represents to them. And that’s the film’s brilliance.

Because when Bobby is shot (and I hope I’m not giving anything away here), it’s surprisingly traumatic — so much so that I sobbed for a good five minutes. And that’s when it became clear that the point of the movie was to bring me to this emotional climax. It recreated for me the way it must have felt to be my mom, my dad, my uncle in 1968, so that I could feel what they felt when Kennedy was murdered. And this, in turn, gave me a visceral, instinctive understanding of both the lingering activism and also the disillusionment that’s impacted their generation since.

There are elements in the film that clearly suggest it’s also a commentary on our current electoral system, on the war in Iraq, and on modern-day racism. But its greatest value is as the best kind of history lesson: one that skips dates and facts and takes you straight to how people feel.

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