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Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts film poster
Directed by Tim Robbins
Produced by Tim Bevan
Forrest Murray
Written by Tim Robbins
Starring Tim Robbins
Giancarlo Esposito
Fred Ward
Alan Rickman
Ray Wise
Brian Murray
Gore Vidal
Rebecca Jenkins
Tom Atkins
Jack Black
Music by David Robbins
Editing by Lisa Zeno Churgin
Studio Live Entertainment
Miramax Films
Working Title Films
Distributed by Paramount/Miramax (USA theatrical)
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (non-USA)
Live Entertainment (1994 USA video)
Artisan Entertainment (2001 USA DVD)
Lions Gate Entertainment (current USA DVD distributor)
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Bob Roberts is a 1992 film written and directed by Tim Robbins. It is a satirical mockumentary, chronicling the rise of Bob Roberts, a conservative politician who is a candidate for an upcoming United States Senate election. Roberts is well financed, due mainly to past business dealings, and is well known for his music, which presents conservative ideas as rebellious. The film suggests that shady deals, hypocrisy and deceit are mainstays of US politics.

The film is based on a short segment, also named Bob Roberts and featuring the same character, that Robbins did for the television sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live on December 13, 1986, and is Robbins's directorial debut.


Plot overview

Bob Roberts takes place in Pennsylvania during the Gulf War. It depicts a fictitious senatorial race between conservative folk singer, Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins) and the incumbent Democrat, Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal). The film is shot through the perspective of Terry Manchester (Brian Murray), a British documentary filmmaker who is following the Roberts campaign. Through his lens we see Roberts travel across the state, performing songs about drug users, lazy people and the triumph of traditional family values over the rebelliousness of the 1960s. As the campaign continues, Paiste remains in the lead until a scandal arises involving him and a young woman who was seen emerging from a car with him. Paiste claims that she was a friend of his granddaughter who he was driving home, but he cannot shake the accusations.

Throughout the campaign reporter Bugs Raplin[1] (Giancarlo Esposito) attempts to use the documentary being made about Roberts as a way to expose him to the public as a fraud. Raplin believes that Roberts’ anti-drug charity, Broken Dove, is connected to an old Central Intelligence Agency drug trafficking scheme. As the election approaches, Roberts is asked to appear on a network’s sketch comedy show. When Roberts announces that he will not be playing the song he had originally proposed, a dispute breaks out between the cast and producers of the show. This new song turns out to be nothing more than a thinly veiled campaign endorsement, and an angry staff member of the network pulls the plug mid-performance. As Roberts is leaving the studio, he is shot by a would-be assassin. Raplin, who has been causing problems for the campaign, is initially linked to the shooting, but he is later cleared when it is found that due to constrictive palsy in his right hand he physically could not have fired the gun. Following the incident, Raplin contests that Roberts was never actually shot and that the gun was fired into the ground.

The campaign is boosted by public support following the assassination attempt, and Roberts wins the election with 52 percent of the vote. Although Roberts claims that his wounds have left him paralysed from the waist down, he is seen tapping his feet at a celebration party. While Terry Manchester is interviewing Roberts’ supporters outside the new Senator’s hotel, a boy runs up shouting, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, they got him!’ When Manchester asks him what he's talking about, the boy shouts, ‘Bugs Raplin! He’s dead! They got him!’ A joyful celebration breaks out among Roberts’ supporters, the shot changes to an image of his hotel room, and an upright walking shadow suggesting Roberts's profile passes the window before the lights go out. The film ends with a radio news report about Raplin’s death at the hands of a right-wing fanatic and a shot of Manchester standing in the Jefferson Memorial, looking at the words, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," inscribed there.


The style of Bob Roberts is drawn from a number of real and mock documentaries, and its shots are crafted to create this effect, in many cases through the use of hand-held cameras. Not only does Roberts’ character draw from 60’s era iconography of Bob Dylan, it also contains scenes inspired by the 1967 documentary, Don't Look Back, made about the singer, employing a similar (although consciously constructed) cinema verité style[2][3]. The film also draws from the mock-documentary This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984) which Robbins states to be a favorite film of his[4], and directly references this during the scene in which Roberts gets lost in an auditorium attempting to find the stage before his performance. Another technique which Robbins takes from Reiner is the use of improvisation, which he encouraged the cast to use. In the case of Gore Vidal’s character, the majority of the lines were not scripted, and instead Vidal based his role upon his own political beliefs, and his real life positions on many of the fictional election topics.[5][6] Robbins borrows from a wide range of films and historical campaign events.


While critics and audiences have responded to this film by connecting Roberts’ character to various political figures, such as George H. W. Bush and Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Robbins has said that the film related more to the political system in general than any specific politician.[7] In the film Robbins does not clearly identify either candidate's partisan allegiance (although we do see Senator Paiste identified on TV as a Democrat, so viewers are left to assume that Roberts is almost definitely a Republican). Much of Robbins' commentary is addressed at the role of the media in election campaigns.[8] Some have critiqued Robbins for his approach toward political satire, stating that his references to Reagan-era politics and the rebelliousness of the 1960’s are simply too anachronistic in the context of the 1990s,[9][10] but others have praised it for framing political commentary as a Hollywood comedy.[11]


  • Robert "Bob" Roberts, Jr. (Tim Robbins) is the protagonist of the film, a folksinger and business man who runs for the United States Senate. Roberts creates an image of himself as a "conservative rebel".
  • John Alijah "Bugs" Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito) is a journalist for Troubled Times magazine who is determined to expose Bob Roberts as a fraud. Raplin is accused of being responsible for Bob's assassination attempt.
  • Lukas Hart III (Alan Rickman) is on the Campaign Chairman for Bob Roberts. Hart set up an organization called Broken Dove, a program that helps to keep children off of drugs which is repeatedly alleged to have supplied transport planes involved in transporting drugs to U.S. government operatives.
  • Chet MacGregor (Ray Wise) Bob's campaign manager.
  • Terry Manchester (Brian Murray) is a British film documentarian who follows Roberts with a camera for the duration of his campaign. This movie is seen as being his finished documentary of the campaign
  • Senator Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal) is the incumbent Senator whom Bob Roberts campaigns against. Paiste ends up losing the election after a rumor emerges about him sleeping with an under-aged member of his campaign staff, and after Bob Roberts's assassination attempt.
  • Delores Perrigrew (Rebecca Jenkins) is a member of Bob's staff and campaign who leaves shortly after the assassination attempt.
  • Franklin Dockett (Harry J. Lennix) is one of Bob's staff and campaign aide. He is African-American and speaks German as a second language.
  • Clark Anderson (John Ottavino) is head of Bob's campaign security and fencing partner.
  • Bart Macklerooney (Robert Stanton) is one of Bob's staff and campaign aide. He speaks Japanese as a second language.
  • Clarissa Flan (Kelly Willis) is another folk musician whom Bob Roberts sometimes performs with in concerts. She is voted Miss Broken Dove in the Miss Independence beauty contest for the state of Pennsylvania. The Roberts campaign supports the beauty contest and Bob sings at the ceremony.
  • Polly Roberts (Merrilee Dale) is Bob Roberts' soft-spoken, picture-perfect wife.
  • Dr. Caleb Menck (Tom Atkins) is Bob Roberts's personal doctor, who speaks to a press conference after the assassination attempt.
  • Mack Laflin (David Strathairn) Bugs Raplin's Attorney.
  • Chuck Marlin (James Spader) is a local news anchor for the station WLNO.
  • Carol Cruise (Pamela Reed) is Chuck Marlin's co-anchor at WLNO.
  • Rose Pondell (Helen Hunt) is a field reporter at WLNO.
  • Dan Riley (Peter Gallagher) is the host of Good Morning, Philadelphia.
  • Kelly Noble (Lynne Thigpen) is an interviewer on Good Morning, Philadelphia who is extremely critical of Roberts, and even goes as far as to say that "[she] wouldn't vote for him if [her] life depended on it", gives him the title of "Rebel Conservative", and compares him to Nixon.
  • Robert Roberts, Sr. (Bingo O'Malley) is Bob Roberts's father. Bob Roberts rebelled against his parents' liberal lifestyle with his conservative agenda. He approves of his son's career, having renounced his former beliefs.
  • Constance Roberts (Kathleen Chalfant) is Bob Roberts' mother. She publicly supports her son, but appears troubled by his ruthlessness and values.
  • Roger Davis (Jack Black) is a young man who is a big fan of Bob Roberts' music and politics. He is introduced to Roberts by his mother, the wife of the mayor of Harrisburg. He states that he and his two friends are all guitar players in a band that covers Roberts' songs.
  • Calvin (Matthew Faber), a friend and bandmate of Roger Davis and a fan of Bob's.
  • Burt (Matt McGrath), a friend and bandmate of Roger Davis and a fan of Bob's.
  • Mrs Davis (Anita Gillette) is the wife of the mayor of Harrisburg, and the mother of Roger Davis. She is responsible for introducing Roger and his friends Burt and Calvin to Bob Roberts.
  • Tawna Titan (Susan Sarandon) is a local news anchor for WFAC-TV News.
  • Chip Daley (Fred Ward) is the co-anchor of Tawna Titan at WFAC-TV News.
  • Rock Bork (Fisher Stevens) is a field reporter at WFAC-TV News.
  • Reverend Best (Gil Robbins) is a right wing minister who supports Roberts' campaign.
  • Carol (June Stein) is an assistant on the program Cutting Edge Live, who is extremely hostile to Roberts. She pulls the plug on Bob Roberts's performance on the show.
  • Michael Janes (Bob Balaban) is the producer of the television program, Cutting Edge Live. He is a parody of Lorne Michaels.
  • Cutting Edge Live host (John Cusack)
  • Cutting Edge Director (Allan F. Nicholls)
  • Ernesto Galleano (Robert Hegyes) is a reporter who covers Roberts' assassination attempt.
  • Bus driver (Jim West)


  • The song "Retake America", written by Robbins, was originally titled "Repave America" and first appeared in the 1988 movie Tapeheads. It was credited as "Bob Roberts" in Tapeheads, four years before Bob Roberts was released.
  • Bob Roberts was also Robbins' punk rock cover band during the Vote for Change tour in 2004. After the announcement of the tour, Robbins' band joined the bill with Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie to trek across swing states. At each of these shows, a minor skit with the help of Eddie Vedder portrayed Robbins as a Republican senator. On every night of the tour, Robbins joined Pearl Jam to play a cover of "The New World" by X.
  • A soundtrack album was never released because Robbins feared that the songs might be played out of context. However, the Californian punk rock band The Vandals covered the song "Complain" on their album Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes.
  • The Saturday Night Live short segment film from December 13, 1986, that was the precursor of the 1992 movie, shows a Bob Roberts almost identical to the 1992 version (except that the 1986 Bob Roberts was an anti-smoking advocate).
  • The film contains various anachronisms. The election depicted is that of 1990, in which no senatorial seat from Pennsylvania was contested. One character phones a German friend to congratulate him on the fall of the Berlin Wall, which actually fell on 9 November 1989. German reunification, which could be the occasion, would also be out of order, as the phone call is placed sometime between a 22 October newspaper article and the election on 6 November.


  1. ^ Oliver Keens, aka 'Bugs Raplin' | Independent on Sunday, The | Find Articles at
  2. ^ Ansen, D. (1992) Rattling the Political Cage. Newsweek. 120(10)
  3. ^ Canby, V. (1992) Bob Roberts; A Singing Candidate, A Happy Trail of Hait. New York Times Friday September 2
  4. ^ Roberge, C. (1992) Tim Robbins campaigns for Bob Roberts and political change (interview). The Tech. 112(44) Page 8
  5. ^ Johnson, B. (1992) The Stars and Snipes. Maclean's. 105(37)
  6. ^ Kauffman, S. (1992) Ballotomanes. New Republic. 207(15) pp. 34-35
  7. ^ Roberge, C. (1992) Tim Robbins campaigns for Bob Roberts and political change (interview). The Tech. 112(44) Page 8
  8. ^ Roberge, C. (1992) Tim Robbins campaigns for Bob Roberts and political change (interview). The Tech. 112(44) Page 8
  9. ^ Troy, G. (1993) Bob Roberts. The American Historical Review. 98(4) pp.
  10. ^ Wattenberg, D. (2001) No Nukes. National Review. 53(5) p55-57
  11. ^ Ansen, D. (1992) Rattling the Political Cage. Newsweek. 120(10)

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