Bobby's Turn

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As biopic material goes, the Kennedy clan is the most bio-picked-over of all. The overfamiliar scenes of Kennediana crawl by like the Stations of the Cross (J.F.K.'s horse-drawn casket, the inevitable football tossing), and the genre has the awkward burden of forcing climax and resolution on lives that were actually ended in midstory by assassinations.

RFK (FX, Aug. 25, 8 p.m. E.T.) at least focuses on the less familiar monogram: that of Robert Francis Kennedy (Linus Roache), who was a Mob-busting Attorney General and cold warrior under his brother, then ran for President on an antiwar, civil rights platform in 1968, only to be cut down himself. (His years as A.G. fly by during the credits, like scenes from another movie.) And the film poses some intriguing questions: Was R.F.K. a cold opportunist or a born-again idealist? What made him run?

The answers are believable — pat, even — but unsatisfying. Robert, RFK muses, feared that he "caused" his brother's murder by antagonizing the Mob or the Cubans, even that he subconsciously wished for his brother's death. (All this is hashed out in overwrought "debates"--which take place in R.F.K.'s head — between Roache and Martin Donovan as the ghost of J.F.K.) Did Robert want the presidency for himself? For his family? The standard answer, given here, is that, moved by Vietnam and urban unrest, he grew to want it for all of us. But his transformation feels mechanical, dictated by the needs of the movie. Roache does capture R.F.K.'s brash outer persona rather than do a mere impersonation. But, as for Kennedy's inner life, after two hours, has anybody here seen our old friend Bobby? Hardly at all.