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Originally published November 23, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 21, 2006 at 5:28 PM

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Movie Review

Poignant story gets a lift from heavyweight cast

Now playing "Bobby," with Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Elijah Wood, Lindsay...

Seattle Times movie critic

Emilio Estevez's spiraling "Bobby" is wildly ambitious, so much so that it's a near-miracle that it works at all. Featuring almost two dozen major characters and a long list of big-name stars, it's an ensemble drama set at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 4, 1968 — the night Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed. The film focuses not on Kennedy himself (he's only seen in newsreel footage and long shots), but on the activity swirling around him, and it sometimes seems unfocused, whirling from character to character with a breathless speed. But some of the actors find ways to make their brief appearances register, and the film by its end achieves a touching poignancy.

Filmed just before the Ambassador's demolition in late 2005 (though most of "Bobby" was shot elsewhere), the film has a "Grand Hotel" feel; the buzz of activity at the Ambassador is bustling and real. Many of the characters are hotel employees: managers, restaurant workers, telephone operators, doormen, beauticians. Others are guests; some eager to catch a glimpse of the famous senator who just might become the next President, some with other agendas. Some of the discussions we hear are about Kennedy or the upcoming election (including a perhaps too-prescient discussion of hanging chads), some are not. For many, this is just another day.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Bobby," with Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Laurence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen. Written and directed by Estevez. 118 minutes. Rated R for language, drug scenes and a scene of violence. Several theaters.

Estevez' screenplay includes some characters who feel entirely unnecessary. A storyline involving a wealthy, depressed man (Martin Sheen) and his trophy wife (Helen Hunt) goes nowhere, and there are a few too many Kennedy hangers-on, all equally young and idealistic. (A cutely persistent Czech journalist, played by Svetlana Metkina, could easily have been dispensed with.) Laurence Fishburne, as a sous chef, gets one over-the-top speech, with music swelling, but is pretty much invisible for most of the film. Heather Graham, as a telephone operator having an affair with a hotel manager (William H. Macy), plays more a type than a character.

But for every moment that sags, another soars. Lindsay Lohan is tremulous and sweet as Diane, a young woman at the hotel to marry a friend (Elijah Wood) to save him from a dangerous Vietnam assignment. In a hotel room before the quiet wedding, she unwittingly shares a secret: She's in love with him. Sharon Stone, under a blonde bouffant, plays the hotel manager's beautician wife Miriam, and her scenes with Lohan (who's shyly come to the salon to get dolled up for the wedding) are surprisingly gentle; Miriam's touched by this girl, and puts aside her own broken dreams to wish Diane happiness.

Macy, always a fine character actor, wears disappointment here like a uniform; he's ending his affair with the telephone operator, but gazes at her with affectionate regret. Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte, their voices agreeably rasping, sit in the lobby and companionably watch the hubbub. They're both retirees from the hotel, and they can't quite let it go — it's in their blood.

We all know what will happen at the end of this film, as Kennedy is passing through the kitchens, and Estevez finds the terrifying chaos of the scene in a blurry montage. From the blood and the weeping, though, rises a voice: a Kennedy speech about courage, about how we share "the same short moment in life." "Bobby" ultimately rises above its inadequacies; it's an earnest tribute to a time gone by, and to a symbol of hope.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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