by Ed Symkus & r & & r & Bobby & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & ut me in a dark room with both a moving picture and sounds that are bigger than life, and I'm a candidate for being affected emotionally. Borat made me laugh hysterically, The Exorcist kept me awake, shivering, for three nights. I laughed at Airplane! Alien freaked me out. But a movie that makes me cry -- that's a rarity, though it did happen after The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Schindler's List. Oddly, at the end of Old Yeller and, years later, Terms of Endearment, while others bawled, I was angry at being so manipulated. (Yes, I knew I was being manipulated, even when I was 7.)

So there I was, sitting with about 12 other critics at an advance screening of Bobby, a fictional account of what was going on in the lives of a couple dozen people at the Ambassador Hotel in the hours before Bobby Kennedy, victorious in the California primary that June day in 1968, was gunned down. It's a riveting and entertaining film, filled with marvelous performances and fascinating situations, done up Altman-style, with cameras roaming around and picking up on different conversations.

The acting was so good, and the writing and direction by Emilio Estevez was so on-the-mark, I kept forgetting where this was all going to end up -- in the hotel kitchen, with RFK laying on the floor, a bullet wound to his head, his life ebbing away while being held by one of the kitchen workers.

But that's how the real story and how the film ends. And when the credits rolled, content that I had just seen a great film, I sat back for a moment in that dark room and inexplicably burst into tears. I was still quietly sobbing a few minutes later when the last of my fellow critics had left.

Now, a couple of weeks later, after telling this story a few times, I'm still not sure what came over me. I was 17 when Bobby was murdered by Sirhan Sirhan. It happened very late at night, and I didn't hear about it till the next morning in civics class. I wasn't a very good student in that class -- I was more interested in the Beatles and the Jefferson Airplane and The Graduate than politics or world events -- so I didn't know how terrible our loss was at the time.

Looking back now, I know all too well. Hearing Bobby's words and seeing his face on TV screens in the film, I was finally paying attention to what he was saying, understanding and believing in what he stood for.

I'm not going to list all of that here. If you knew of his compassion and ideas, you know what he could have done with his anti-war, pro-people platform. If you don't, this film is imperative viewing.

So why was I crying? Maybe it was because I finally came to grips with the fact that Bobby was probably our last hope as a country. Maybe it was because watching the film rubbed that old story of one's own lost youth in my face. Maybe it was because Estevez completely succeeded in understanding and making use of the overwhelming power of cinema.

And this is one powerful movie.

But it's not the kind of thing that hits you over the head. Mixing documentary footage with fiction -- Bobby is played by Bobby, except in a few clever sequences when a not-clearly-seen actor hurries by the camera -- there are about a dozen different stories being told. Retired hotel employees (Anthony Hopkins, Harry Belafonte) keep coming back to relive the good old days. A marriage between a young couple (Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood) is happening just to keep him out of the draft. A troubled couple (Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt) is trying a second honeymoon. A racist manager (Christian Slater) gives his mostly Hispanic crew a rough time. An employee (Heather Graham) tries to get ahead by sleeping with her married boss (William H. Macy), even though his wife (Sharon Stone) also works there.

The stories go on and on, with characters sometimes merging, sometimes bouncing off of, sometimes never even getting close to one another. Some of them are drawn together, some are driven apart. Some of their dreams are realized, some are dashed. One of the stories, involving a hippie LSD dealer (Ashton Kutcher), is hilarious; another, about the waning days of a once-popular nightclub singer (Demi Moore), is very sad. A quiet, dignified performance from Laurence Fishburne about racism in America is the best piece of acting.

I need to see the film again because I want to pay more attention to how Estevez used the contents of Kennedy's speeches to complement the fictional stories going on throughout the hotel. I'm pretty sure he did it brilliantly. But I'm going to wait a few weeks, till the audiences are smaller. I don't like crying in crowded rooms.


(Dont miss this film)

Rated R

Directed by Emilio Estevez

Starring William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood