RFK Again

Nikki Finke‘s story about Matt Damon being attached to a Robert F. Kennedy biopic (based on a 2002 Evan Thomas biography) is a bit of a “meh.” I’d expect Damon to match Steven Culp‘s performance in Roger Donaldson‘s Thirteen Days, at least. But I’m not sure what this would come to.


In other words, even if Damon signs off on Steven Knight‘s script and Gary Ross does a first-rate job of directing and so on, what can this film be at the end of the day? That sounds cynical, of course. Defeatist. But consider this famous 1968 speech that RFK jgave just after hearing of Martin Luther King‘s murder. It gets me every time (especially the cries in the audience after Kennedy breaks the news). How could Damon/Ross/Knight pic avoid including it in their film? But no matter how well Damon delivers it, it’ll still be a “cover” version that’ll never match the real thing.

And in this era of easy file-sharing and YouTube access to everything, I’m wondering if an historical biopic has the potential to jolt the way it did even ten years ago. I suppose I’m reacting also to the thud effect of Emilio Estevez‘s Bobby, which put me off wanting to see another Hollywood processing of RFK’s life and times ever again.

The only chance for an RFK biopic do really work dramatically would be to focus on the bad Bobby/good Bobby dichotomy. It would have to have to effectively sell the idea that he was far from a saint, and may even have been a bit of a dick. And that he was a guy who worked for Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the ’50s and saw life in black-and-white terms (his father once said of him, “The kid hates like I do”), and yet gradually grow into a much more compassionate and caring person as he got older — not an easy task.

And it would have to somehow dramatize this passage from the Thomas book, to wit:

“[RFK] was brave because he was afraid. His monsters were too large and close at hand to simply flee. He had to turn and fight them…. He became a one-man underground, honeycombed with hidden passages, speaking in code, trusting no one completely, ready to face the firing squad — but also knowing when to slip away to fight again another day. Although he affected simplicity and directness, he became an extraordinarily complicated and subtle man. His shaking hands and reedy voice, his groping for words as well as meaning, his occasional resort to subterfuge, do not diminish his daring. Precisely because he was fearful and self-doubting, his story is an epic of courage.”

Which of course is too complex and layered an observation to be incorporated into a dramatic through-line in a film. So the film, if it gets made, will once again hone and compress and reduce in the usual unsatisfying way.

You know what I’d love to see? A two-part RFK movie that focuses on two significant chapters in the same vein as Steven Soderbergh‘s Che — a portion focusing on Kennedy’s life in the mid ’50s (McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Jimmy Hoffa) when he was seen as tough and combative and conservative-minded , and then a chapter about the messianic finale during the last three or four months of his life — entering the Presidential primaries on 3.16.68 to his murder in Los Angeles on 6.5.68.

No RFK childhood, no Teddy, no Ethel, no Brumus…none of that. Nothing about managing JFK’s campaign or RFK’s time as Attorney General, no touch-footballing-in-Hyannisport, no depression after his brother’s murder, no Marilyn Monroe…none of that. A longish RFK Che movie would be bold, fascinating, different. That I would pay to see.

71 thoughts on “RFK Again

  1. Eloi Manning on said:

    I always thought Steven Culp was pretty good as RFK, but he’s done nothing since. Just guest spots on every single TV show on the air.

  2. I always thought Steven Culp was pretty good as RFK, but he’s done nothing since. Just guest spots on every single TV show on the air.

  3. Sorry, I’ll spare everyone copying-and-pasting one of my stock rants, but the sooner Boomer directors stop making these “fall from innocence!” movies about their generation, the better. I’m pushing *40^, and JFK, Nixon, Watergate, and most of Vietnam occurred before I was even born. Who goes to see these things beyond Caucasian 50, 60-somethings? I realize the Hollywood directing elite is predominantly exactly that, but can we move on to movies at least about the ’80s, the ’90s? It’s getting kind of smug and annoying that every whitebread auteur needs to bash us over the head with THE LESSONS OF RFK, ‘NAM and WATERGATE this late in the game. Yeah, because nothing tragic or interesting has happened in the world since 1976.

    I don’t know if I can bear one more somber, horn-scored, honey-glazed prestige pic about the crushing generational fall from innocence upon living through Nixon and Watergate or the Kennedy assassinations. What more is there to say? And didn’t “Bobby” make roughly 11 dollars not four years ago on this same subject? NO ONE cares. Save the money.

    And, Gary Ross? God, could a director be any more white? Well, I guess he could be Larry Kasdan or Judd Apatow, but still… Man, mix it up. Go do some police ride-alongs and make a 3-hr coke epic fever dream shot entirely in Armenian with Tagolog subtitles and not featuring a single Caucasian actor and shot in 4.35:1 and scored with death metal and Latino hip-hop.

    I sincerely don’t understand how people can live and work in Los Angeles and remain SO WHITE. There’s like sixteen white people in this city to begin with… Apparently they all sit around Beverly Hills talking about RFK and Nixon some 40 years on.

  4. Sorry, I’ll spare everyone copying-and-pasting one of my stock rants, but the sooner Boomer directors stop making these “fall from innocence!” movies about their generation, the better. I’m pushing *40^, and JFK, Nixon, Watergate, and most of Vietnam occurred before I was even born. Who goes to see these things beyond Caucasian 50, 60-somethings? I realize the Hollywood directing elite is predominantly exactly that, but can we move on to movies at least about the ’80s, the ’90s? It’s getting kind of smug and annoying that every whitebread auteur needs to bash us over the head with THE LESSONS OF RFK, ‘NAM and WATERGATE this late in the game. Yeah, because nothing tragic or interesting has happened in the world since 1976.

    I don’t know if I can bear one more somber, horn-scored, honey-glazed prestige pic about the crushing generational fall from innocence upon living through Nixon and Watergate or the Kennedy assassinations. What more is there to say? And didn’t “Bobby” make roughly 11 dollars not four years ago on this same subject? NO ONE cares. Save the money.

    And, Gary Ross? God, could a director be any more white? Well, I guess he could be Larry Kasdan or Judd Apatow, but still… Man, mix it up. Go do some police ride-alongs and make a 3-hr coke epic fever dream shot entirely in Armenian with Tagolog subtitles and not featuring a single Caucasian actor and shot in 4.35:1 and scored with death metal and Latino hip-hop.

    I sincerely don’t understand how people can live and work in Los Angeles and remain SO WHITE. There’s like sixteen white people in this city to begin with… Apparently they all sit around Beverly Hills talking about RFK and Nixon some 40 years on.

  5. “I’m wondering if an historical biopic has the potential to jolt the way it did even ten years ago.”

    I think it could — but not a biopic of any Kennedy. It seems as if there’s no stories left to tell there. In fact, let’s expand that to “the ’60′s” in general. Stop making “historical” movies about history that boomers lived through.

  6. “I’m wondering if an historical biopic has the potential to jolt the way it did even ten years ago.”

    I think it could — but not a biopic of any Kennedy. It seems as if there’s no stories left to tell there. In fact, let’s expand that to “the ’60′s” in general. Stop making “historical” movies about history that boomers lived through.

  7. “A longish RFK Che movie…I would pay to see.”

    Exactly how many seconds after you finish this pitch, would the producer have you thrown in the trunk of your own car, without having validated your parking ticket.

    The reason this movie has no juice is that Obama was RFK. A man seen as an exciting savior; someone to unite behind during a time of incredible turrmoil. I think we’re all a little underwhelmed with the current results. Thus RFK’s untimely death, seen at the time as an apocalyptic loss of hope, now raises the question of whether the country would be that much different or even better over time had he survived.

  8. “A longish RFK Che movie…I would pay to see.”

    Exactly how many seconds after you finish this pitch, would the producer have you thrown in the trunk of your own car, without having validated your parking ticket.

    The reason this movie has no juice is that Obama was RFK. A man seen as an exciting savior; someone to unite behind during a time of incredible turrmoil. I think we’re all a little underwhelmed with the current results. Thus RFK’s untimely death, seen at the time as an apocalyptic loss of hope, now raises the question of whether the country would be that much different or even better over time had he survived.

  9. Antione Fuqua should direct a 3-hour big-screen version of “Bangin’ In Little Rock.”

    There’s a Boogie Nights/Summer of Sam EPIC just dying to be made about the early white-kids-going-gangsta era… if nothing else the soundtrack would sell a zillion copies and start a revolution of nostalgia for 1988-1993. If I were more ambitious or had any industry connections where it might actually get read, I’d write it. And yet it’s the kind of seismic cultural movement that a 60 year old white director who’s lived in Brentwood since 1978 has zero awareness of.

  10. Antione Fuqua should direct a 3-hour big-screen version of “Bangin’ In Little Rock.”

    There’s a Boogie Nights/Summer of Sam EPIC just dying to be made about the early white-kids-going-gangsta era… if nothing else the soundtrack would sell a zillion copies and start a revolution of nostalgia for 1988-1993. If I were more ambitious or had any industry connections where it might actually get read, I’d write it. And yet it’s the kind of seismic cultural movement that a 60 year old white director who’s lived in Brentwood since 1978 has zero awareness of.

  11. Damon and Ross need to combine their RFK project with Chris Columbus’. Columbus is working from Thurston Clarke’s “The Last Campaign” which is a MUST-READ.. A non-linear narrative shifting from RFK’s presidential campaign to his early life is the way to go. Excluding Ethel Kennedy makes no sense, Jeff. And not diving into RFK’s psyche post Dallas would be neglecting who RFK was in the late 60s.

    It’s time for the definitive RFK biopic. I think Damon can do it (who else could?). And this notion that RFK was a conservative is crazy talk. He’s a hero.

  12. Damon and Ross need to combine their RFK project with Chris Columbus’. Columbus is working from Thurston Clarke’s “The Last Campaign” which is a MUST-READ.. A non-linear narrative shifting from RFK’s presidential campaign to his early life is the way to go. Excluding Ethel Kennedy makes no sense, Jeff. And not diving into RFK’s psyche post Dallas would be neglecting who RFK was in the late 60s.

    It’s time for the definitive RFK biopic. I think Damon can do it (who else could?). And this notion that RFK was a conservative is crazy talk. He’s a hero.

  13. “Damon and Ross need to combine their RFK project with Chris Columbus’.”

    Agreed. I can then focus on ignoring one movie in theaters, instead of the two.

  14. “Damon and Ross need to combine their RFK project with Chris Columbus’.”

    Agreed. I can then focus on ignoring one movie in theaters, instead of the two.

  15. Lex — I worked for Gary Ross for a few years back in my Hell-A days. He’s so white he makes his milk jealous. I also had the opportunity to hear him actually say thhis phrase to a hotel desk clerk:

    “Don’t you know who I am?!”

    Spare me.

    Though I do admire the technical beauty of Pleasantville.

  16. Lex — I worked for Gary Ross for a few years back in my Hell-A days. He’s so white he makes his milk jealous. I also had the opportunity to hear him actually say thhis phrase to a hotel desk clerk:

    “Don’t you know who I am?!”

    Spare me.

    Though I do admire the technical beauty of Pleasantville.

  17. Honestly curious — how white would you say Michael Bay is on that scale, just for comparison purposes (since you’ve worked with both)?

  18. Honestly curious — how white would you say Michael Bay is on that scale, just for comparison purposes (since you’ve worked with both)?

  19. I haven’t read Evan Thomas’s book, but working from Clarke’s “The Last Campaign” and Arthur M. Schlesinger’s definitive bio “RFK and his times” is all a screenwriter needs to shape the story.

    I’m “meh” on Gary Ross. How about a non-American’s prospective? How about…Alfonso Cuaron?

  20. I haven’t read Evan Thomas’s book, but working from Clarke’s “The Last Campaign” and Arthur M. Schlesinger’s definitive bio “RFK and his times” is all a screenwriter needs to shape the story.

    I’m “meh” on Gary Ross. How about a non-American’s prospective? How about…Alfonso Cuaron?

  21. RFK’s last words were: Is everybody okay?

    This is after HE was gunned down. I want Cuaron’s eye and his camera on this project. YEP.

  22. RFK’s last words were: Is everybody okay?

    This is after HE was gunned down. I want Cuaron’s eye and his camera on this project. YEP.

  23. Kaned — Bay is definitely a whitey but he’s got some swagger to him, some flavor.

    Ross, and Bay for that matter, were great fun to work for (for the most part…) but the differences between the two were huge. I guess when you work with your wife (as Ross does) you have a different attitude than you would if your office was located directly next to Playboy West (as Bay’s was in my time) and you’ve got bunnies walking in and out all day long.

  24. Kaned — Bay is definitely a whitey but he’s got some swagger to him, some flavor.

    Ross, and Bay for that matter, were great fun to work for (for the most part…) but the differences between the two were huge. I guess when you work with your wife (as Ross does) you have a different attitude than you would if your office was located directly next to Playboy West (as Bay’s was in my time) and you’ve got bunnies walking in and out all day long.

  25. Wells to Mark: It is exactly and precisely the pitches that would get me thrown into the trunk of my own car that have a potential of turning into movies with that “extra” quality. So thank you for the compliment. It is typically timid chickenshit thinking, incidentally, to think that a movie resembling Che‘s structure would necessarily be a bad (i.e., unsatisfying or uncommercial) thing. The two-chapter idea I came up with is actually phenomenal.

  26. Wells to Mark: It is exactly and precisely the pitches that would get me thrown into the trunk of my own car that have a potential of turning into movies with that “extra” quality. So thank you for the compliment. It is typically timid chickenshit thinking, incidentally, to think that a movie resembling Che‘s structure would necessarily be a bad (i.e., unsatisfying or uncommercial) thing. The two-chapter idea I came up with is actually phenomenal.

  27. I feel like I’m already staring at the DVD box at the video store and hemming and hawing about renting it. (Didn’t Owen Gleiberman give this a B-? David Edelstein liked it, so did Roger Ebert..it did get some Golden Globe nominations…hmmmm…I think I’ll rent THE CRAZIES instead….).

  28. I feel like I’m already staring at the DVD box at the video store and hemming and hawing about renting it. (Didn’t Owen Gleiberman give this a B-? David Edelstein liked it, so did Roger Ebert..it did get some Golden Globe nominations…hmmmm…I think I’ll rent THE CRAZIES instead….).

  29. Hire Jeff to write the script! He has a good sense of how to make this movie meaningful. I think the best performance of RFK was by Michael Parks in Larry Cohen’s too-little-seen 1977 film THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER.

  30. Hire Jeff to write the script! He has a good sense of how to make this movie meaningful. I think the best performance of RFK was by Michael Parks in Larry Cohen’s too-little-seen 1977 film THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER.

  31. Don’t forget that appalling show on UPN or the CW or whatever that fictionalized the Kennedy childhoods. I think Christine Lahti played “Rose.” It lasted about five episodes.

  32. Don’t forget that appalling show on UPN or the CW or whatever that fictionalized the Kennedy childhoods. I think Christine Lahti played “Rose.” It lasted about five episodes.

  33. Rich S., JACK & BOBBy was kind of interesting. It wasn’t at all how you describe it, sounds like the talking points. Now the SECRET DIARy OF DESMOND PFEIFFER on the other hand…

  34. Rich S., JACK & BOBBy was kind of interesting. It wasn’t at all how you describe it, sounds like the talking points. Now the SECRET DIARy OF DESMOND PFEIFFER on the other hand…

  35. Burma, I raised the show in reference to some of the other posts casting doubt on whether there was any interest in an RFK biopic. I’ll admit that appalling may have been too strong a word.

  36. Burma, I raised the show in reference to some of the other posts casting doubt on whether there was any interest in an RFK biopic. I’ll admit that appalling may have been too strong a word.

  37. “It’s getting kind of smug and annoying that every whitebread auteur needs to bash us over the head with THE LESSONS OF RFK, ‘NAM and WATERGATE this late in the game.”

    Huh? Genuinely historical events like those are somehow off-limits because you’re tired of them? Or because they happened so long ago? While I agree that another RFK biopic leaves me a little flat, there’s plenty more material to mine from that era that hasn’t been touched. The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war? Maybe AS important, but not MORE important — or more interesting.

  38. “It’s getting kind of smug and annoying that every whitebread auteur needs to bash us over the head with THE LESSONS OF RFK, ‘NAM and WATERGATE this late in the game.”

    Huh? Genuinely historical events like those are somehow off-limits because you’re tired of them? Or because they happened so long ago? While I agree that another RFK biopic leaves me a little flat, there’s plenty more material to mine from that era that hasn’t been touched. The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war? Maybe AS important, but not MORE important — or more interesting.

  39. “Huh? Genuinely historical events like those are somehow off-limits because you’re tired of them? Or because they happened so long ago?”

    I don’t believe that was anyone’s point here. The point is that there is very rarely an interesting angle taken any longer. Even Oliver Stone gave up on the era after Nixon — which I feel is a very strong film, btw — and that was 15 years ago!

    “While I agree that another RFK biopic leaves me a little flat, there’s plenty more material to mine from that era that hasn’t been touched.”

    Really? Such as…?

    The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war? Maybe AS important, but not MORE important — or more interesting.

    That was just an example. What about the fall of the Berlin wall? The Exxon Valdez oil spill? Disney’s repeated attempts to gain control over the Muppets?

    All anyone is saying is every era has their important events in history. It’s possible that the ’60s may have been slightly more important in the grand scheme of things, but that was over 40 years ago. They’ve frankly been overrepresented in pop-culture for a while now. Quite a while.

  40. “Huh? Genuinely historical events like those are somehow off-limits because you’re tired of them? Or because they happened so long ago?”

    I don’t believe that was anyone’s point here. The point is that there is very rarely an interesting angle taken any longer. Even Oliver Stone gave up on the era after Nixon — which I feel is a very strong film, btw — and that was 15 years ago!

    “While I agree that another RFK biopic leaves me a little flat, there’s plenty more material to mine from that era that hasn’t been touched.”

    Really? Such as…?

    The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war? Maybe AS important, but not MORE important — or more interesting.

    That was just an example. What about the fall of the Berlin wall? The Exxon Valdez oil spill? Disney’s repeated attempts to gain control over the Muppets?

    All anyone is saying is every era has their important events in history. It’s possible that the ’60s may have been slightly more important in the grand scheme of things, but that was over 40 years ago. They’ve frankly been overrepresented in pop-culture for a while now. Quite a while.

  41. “The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war?”

    Of course Vietnam is Important, it’s been one of the perenial tentpoles of Important Films since 1970. What was the last movie that had anything new to say about Vietnam? Or even something old to say in an interesting way?

    A serious question – is Gary Ross really the person you think is going to find some new way to make the biopic? Or do you agree it’s more realistic that this screenplay will follow the exact beats that anybody with an hour to kill on Wikipedia would figure out?

  42. “The rise of hip-hop in white America or any other topic that happens to be post 1989 is somehow a more important story than the f-ing Vietnam war?”

    Of course Vietnam is Important, it’s been one of the perenial tentpoles of Important Films since 1970. What was the last movie that had anything new to say about Vietnam? Or even something old to say in an interesting way?

    A serious question – is Gary Ross really the person you think is going to find some new way to make the biopic? Or do you agree it’s more realistic that this screenplay will follow the exact beats that anybody with an hour to kill on Wikipedia would figure out?

  43. I’d rather see Matt In Liberace…at least that has some flavor. More The Departed and Talented Mr. Ripley…less biopics please. Matt, you’re also due for a comedy.

  44. I’d rather see Matt In Liberace…at least that has some flavor. More The Departed and Talented Mr. Ripley…less biopics please. Matt, you’re also due for a comedy.

  45. I am impressed, this is a fantastic article. You obviously know what your subject matter! I studied it with great interest and look forward to the next updates. I have grabbed the rss feed to stay up to date of any further updates. The site is very easy to navigate as well, I’ve added it to my favorites also.

  46. I am impressed, this is a fantastic article. You obviously know what your subject matter! I studied it with great interest and look forward to the next updates. I have grabbed the rss feed to stay up to date of any further updates. The site is very easy to navigate as well, I’ve added it to my favorites also.

  47. ^ I’d probably take that as a great compliment, except I saw skate shoes post the exact same message over at the official Jersey Shore fansite (just don’t ask what I was doing there).

  48. ^ I’d probably take that as a great compliment, except I saw skate shoes post the exact same message over at the official Jersey Shore fansite (just don’t ask what I was doing there).

  49. However,ed hardy Boots, 15 ed hardy womens, mainly from ed hardy jeans, opposed the duties and want the measures to be lifted. Opposition is vigorous from big cellphone365 retailers and cheap shoes, such as ed hardy bags,ed hardy uk,Ed Hardy Shirts and Nike,christian louboutin, the sports Ed Hardy Hoodies,Ed Hardy Swimwears, which tiffany-jewelry source their As Seen On TV Store from low-cost manufacturing Snuggie, such as As Seen On TV Discounts.

    Lady Gaga is well-known for her outlandish TV Gifts, but it seems that her body stocking-du-jour can be bought off the As Seen On TV Products, the L.A. Times reports. Kymaro, an ‘As Seen On TVTV Kitchen claims that Gaga’s TV Fitness suit is the TV Household Shaper, which As Seen On TV Store for $39.99 and gets rid of love TV Health, spare tires and TV Auto age spread. It slims down 2 dress sizes instantly and is made from a TV Pets fabric that moves with you, perfect for those times when you’re performing “TV Video” in front of a crowd of abercrombie and fitch fans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>