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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

counting down the best films of 2006: No. 8, ‘Bobby’

WHY IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR?: Emilio Estevez makes an enormous leap as a filmmaker, nay, as an artist, with this powerfully emotional tribute to the influence of Bobby Kennedy … and at the same time laments the absence today of his like in the public realm. As an American who feels the lack of principled leadership in the nation in the early 21st century, I was deeply moved to suddenly be confronted with how profound that lack really is. Only last year’s Good Night, and Good Luck. is in the same category as Bobby in its heartfelt yet subtle outrage.

BUT WHAT WAS THAT OLD SAYING ABOUT SENDING A MESSAGE…?: Yup, Hollywood Golden Age mogul Samuel Goldwyn is reputed to have said, decrying the idea of the “message movie,” that “if you want to send a message, call Western Union.” And whether that’s an apocryphal quote or not, that is absolutely true. Movies have to be about people, at their core, for it’s only through characters whom we care about that any story works, no matter how “important” or “meaningful” the point the filmmaker wants to make is, or how passionate or genuine the approach. What makes Bobby so devastating is how Estevez’s patchwork of a wide and diverse ensemble of characters comes together in a cohesive whole, an enormously affecting quilt of humanity. I literally just this moment realized that seven of the ten films on my top 10 list are explicitly political, “message-y” films — that is, films that clearly sprang from the current sociopolitical environment and that wish to make a statement about where we are or where we’re heading or how we got here or why what’s happening now is Not Good (or all four at once). But this is the most compelling example among even all these truly great films of how the political is invariably personal.
DOESN’T THIS FILM JUST PROVE THAT HOLLYWOOD REALLY IS OVERRUN WITH LIBERALS?: Hah. If the business end of Hollywood were “liberal,” then Estevez wouldn’t have had to work for years just to raise the bucks to produce this, even on a shoestring, wouldn’t have had to ask his superstar cast to work for next to nothing. That he was able to command the kind of cast he did here (Sharon Stone, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood, etc., etc.), even with nothing to offer them financially, is an excellent indication that the people who work in Hollywood may tend toward the liberal, but Hollywood as an industry? It won’t go to bat for “liberal” films if it doesn’t think there’s a windfall to come of it. Hoorah for Estevez for not giving into that Hollywood pressure, to aim for a wide, apolitical audience, or else Bruce Willis would have had to swoop in at the last minute to save Bobby’s life and hunt down the would-be assassin.

[Check out my full review of Bobby here.]

[See the whole best-of list for 2006 here.]

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