From the get-go, I had high hopes for this picture.
Among the reasons for my high hopes were, firstly, the highly pertinent character of the Vietnam-era when compared with the current era. Secondly, there was the depth of casting which was, at times, almost comical in terms of the sheer number of celebrities taking part in the ensemble cast.
William H. Macy.
And just when you think you’ve seen the last celebrity appearance, you’re confronted with a long-haired Ashton Kutcher and then just as quickly with other stars such as Elijah Wood.
But the amazing cast and the impressive performances just couldn’t distract from one simple, yet important fact:
The movie idolizes Bobby Kennedy when, given the anti-war motif of of the film, it shouldn’t have.
Throughout the movie, interesting (and accurate) parallels are drawn between our time and 1968.
-Racial unrest and a Democratic Party primary with contenders arousing hopes of a new breakthrough in terms of racial equality.
-New balloting procedures involving ‘chads’ (that exact term, popularized after the 2000 Florida election controversy, is actually mentioned in the film).
-An unpopular war.
-A sitting, pro-war president.
One needn’t be a student of Thucydides to draw on the intended parallels.
But the problem is that, while the American Democratic Party has been in the process of Lionizing the Kennedy name for the past 40 years, there really is little merit for these laurels. What is more, the logic of focussing what is in the final analysis, an anti-war movie, around RFK merely serves to obfuscate his position with regards to that war.
Estevez selectively choses clips from video archival footage of RFK answering questions on Vietnam to suggest that he was the anti-war candidate who valliantly campaigned against the war. However the facts are far from this fiction. The true anti-war candidate, the one who got into the race as a dark horse candidate and who actually was the stuff of Hollywood underdog stories was Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, not Bobby Kennedy.
He was the one who started the campaign against the pro-war LBJ and, shockingly, came within a hair of defeating the sitting president in the New Hampshire primary.
It was this surprising finish which served, in part, as a catalyst for LBJ’s decision not to run again for re-election and which brought Kennedy into the race for the Democratic nomination.
So, ultimately, all the orchestral pieces overlayed with snippets of RFK’s speeches; all the best acting; and all the best actors cannot erase the fact that the movie idolizes the wrong guy all the while glossing over the contribution of the true anti-war candidate who took a principled stand on the issue: Eugene McCarthy.