It's a big year for 50th anniversaries, none looming larger than the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Already featured in a CNN series about the family, "Bobby Kennedy for President" squarely trains the spotlight on the what-might-have-been of his life, in a four-part Netflix documentary filled with previously unseen archival footage and interviews with RFK associates.
Opening with an arresting image of Kennedy cruising through California in a convertible, the first installment proceeds to chronicle his privileged youth, work on behalf of brother John and evolution on the issues that became central to his campaign: Vietnam, civil rights and poverty.
As eventual allies note, Kennedy's reputation as a champion of those causes only came after shedding his profile as a fervent anti-communist and a late convert to civil rights -- after resistance motivated by political expediency -- that had provoked mistrust among African Americans and liberals.
Much of the footage is stunning, providing fly-on-the-wall access to Kennedy as Attorney General, including a discussion with John in the White House -- filmed for a documentary -- that's abruptly halted when the president asks the filmmakers to cut.
Those weighing in include Rep. John Lewis, Harry Belafonte and Dolores Huerta, as well as Kennedy staffers, among them special assistant William Vanden Heuvel and Paul Schrade, one of five other people shot on the night RFK was killed.
At this point, one might think there's not much left to say about a family that has come closer than any other to being anointed American royalty, and in a sense, that's true. But the idealism and passion that surrounded Kennedy's campaign, coupled with the nagging questions about a legacy unfulfilled and the echoes of a half-century ago still reverberating today, make this a sterling addition to that filmography.
Ardent students of the Kennedys won't necessarily learn a lot new here. But in terms of whether it's worth finding the time for another black-and-white (mostly) look back at that rich history, that's a race "Bobby Kennedy for President" wins by a landslide.
"Bobby Kennedy for President" premieres April 27 on Netflix.
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