Bookending History

From the fateful year of 1968 to the imagined date of 2007, two films seen at TIFF frame what has become the American Nightmare.

They are Bobby, scheduled for general release in November and Death of an American President which was snapped up for distribution at the festival.

Estevez scores with film about Kennedy killing


Bobby’s star studded cast

In between these bookends of time, the one real, the other imagined, the world has felt the impact of American geopolitics and remains menaced by the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Bobby points clearly to the might-have-been had Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s rise not been stopped short by an assasin’s bullet.

Directed with force and imagination by Emilio Estevez the film needs no Kennedy impersonator. He is seen throughout in newsreel clips on the fateful June 4 in 1968, when a California primary is being held with his focus on ending the Viet Nam War, and carrying on Martin Luther King’s struggle for human rights, halted earlier that year with his murder.

Bobby is an ensemble film with a star-studded cast, handled with aplomb by Estevez in a manner that equals Robert Altman’s best works.

The action takes place in Los Angeles’ Ambassdor Hotel. Bobby Kennedy is to speak there and his scheduled appearance affects many lives, from the retired doorman (Anthony Hopkins) who just can’t stay away from the hotel lobby and plays chess there with another retired staffer (Harry Belafonte) to the alcoholic cabaret singer (Demi Moore) and her husband, Estevez himself. His father, activist-actor Martin Sheen plays a bored, wealthy retiree, at the hotel with his wife (Helen Hunt).

Willam H. Macy is the efficient but anxious hotel manager who puts down racism in the kitchen by firing its manager (Christian Slater) who has a hate on for a Latino busboy; at the same tme, he’s cheating on his wife(Sharon Stone) with a switchboard operator.

Add Laurence Fishburne as a philosphical head chef, and you have a star-studded cast that Estevez, happily, never permits to intrude on the main theme: the idealistic “might-have been,” to be eternally regretted since Bobby Kennedy’s death opened the door for the reign of the crooked Nixon with more horrors to come in the persons of Reagan and the Bushes.

Freddy Rodigruez as the busboy gives a performance that stands up alongside the seasoned cast Estevez has assembled. He’s already being spoken of as an Oscar nomineee for male supporting performance.

I found myself so absorbed in this film that I was wishing Bobby Kennedy woud walk away from the Ambassador. The might-have-been Estevez has shown us makes it all the more difficult to take what followed —- from Tricky Dick to Devious Dubya.


Time was when producers and directors kept themselves distant from portraying living celebrity characters as themselves. Now we get Helen Mirren as the living Queen Elisabeth, Nanni Moretti’s film showing images of the real Berlusconi and in Death of an American President the real George W. Bush both alive and dead!

Preceded by much advance publicity, (D.O.A.P as it’s become known) is nothing less tham a tour de force for British director Gabriel Range and editor Brad Thumim.

Where for Bobby, Estevez had to rely on grainy arcival news footage, Range has at his disposal tehnically perfect Bush clips of recent vintage which make way for a seamless production.

D.O.A.P. is a simulated documentary, made following George W. Bush’s assasination in 2007 just after he has addressed a gathering in Chicago

Ingenious editing between reality and staged scenes gives the film an appearance of authenticity, terrifying in its implications. The murder brings about a dictatorship under Bush’s successor, Dick Cheney as the hunt for the assassin proceeds and racial profiling muddies the solution. Genuine news shots of protesting crowds and Bush’s speeches blend seamlessly in editor Thumim’s hands.

Far from providing a kick to domestic Bush haters, D.O.A.P is a stern warning to all those impatient to see the end of Bush’s reign. Moral: assassination is not only an indefensible act: it’s a madman’s game. Advice: Work for change in the nature of the presidency; Bush has only two more years to go.

Winner of the International Critics’ Award at TIFF. D.O.A.P has already been picked up for distribution in North America and one wonders at the public reacton it will cause and whether its subject matter will decide on major chains booking it only in selected locations safe from protests.

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