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Bulworth was released quite a few years ago, but it is still (if not
more) relevant today. It merges two "cultures," one being the rich
white class culture, and the other being the urban lower class culture,
and ends up with many universal ideals. The story's hero is Jay
Billington Bulworth, portrayed brilliantly by Warren Beatty. I think
some people have a problem with the fact that he is...well, more or
less insane, but that is possibly the most important thing about the
character. You could call him insane, but if you look at it more
romantically, perhaps he is "posessed" by the "spirit" of social
justice, a mere vessel for the truths that need to be told. He is a
character unaware of the significance in what he is saying. To him, if
he's not completely insane, he's simply a man who broke down and
decided to tell it like it is (ala Peter Finch in Network, but with
rapping and rhyming). There's something actually kind of mystical about
Since it would be way too preachy if that's all there was to the story, there's some other aspects that make for an entertaining viewing. Bulworth, in his depression and anxiety, hired a hit-man to "off" him so his family could collect the life insurance. Once his speeches and raps become a success, this is obviously a big problem since he wants to live again ("You should never make life and death situations when feeling suicidal"). There is a love interest with a girl named Nina, played by the lovely Halle Berry. You don't know if you can trust her, and her intentions are unclear.
There is also a fine supporting role by Don Cheadle, who plays a "business man" who uses young children to sell drugs. His character does bring up some valid points, and we're forced to really put ourselves in his shoes. He's doing what he feels is right, but ultimately, the ends don't justify his means.
With a movie that has so much going on, it would probably be difficult for the filmmakers to figure out a way to wrap everything up, right? Unfortunately, yes. Bulworth ends pretty abruptly and leaves with the film's message being half-assedly shouted at the screen. The last act is a huge flaw in an otherwise perfect movie.
Bulworth is a hilarious comedy and it heralds something truly special and unique. It is not a film to be taken for granted or forgotten. It's a quintessential example of a 'contemporary classic' for our generation. I have no doubt that over the next decade or so, people will want to revisit it and examine the politics and the cultures; it should be studied in classrooms, it should be valued. I loved Bulworth!
My rating: 9/10
You have to hand it to Warren Beatty, he redefines the term "maverick". He could be, like many of his contemporaries, taking it easy. Instead, "Bullworth". One of the most outrageously funny satires I've seen in a long time. Satire? Somebody asked me. Well yes, satire. A realistic, daring, clearheaded, masterful satire. We live in satirical times, we have no choice in the matter. It takes an artist of Beatty's caliber to turns things around and makes us laugh and shiver at this mess of our own making. After seeing "Bullworth" I felt compelled to revisit some of Beatty's earlier work as an actor or producer or director. From "Mickey One" to "Reds" passing through "Bonnie And Clyde" and "Shampoo" not to mention "Heaven Can Wait" Mr. Beatty's legacy is one of amazing consistency. As I smiled enjoying his funny portrayal in "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" with Vivien Leigh, I thought: that beautiful man is not just a pretty face.
I cannot recommend 'Bulworth' highly enough. Sure, I've seen lots of worthy political satires. 'The Candidate', 'Wag the Dog', 'Bob Roberts', and others. But this is the finest example ever made. Warren Beatty should be very proud of this masterpiece. Not only for the guts it took to so brazenly confront the modern political process (and how it affects race relations, the film industry, education, medicine, and so on) but also for the fact that he wrote it, produced it, directed it, and starred in it. Any one of those jobs can be a supreme undertaking, and here he has accomplished all four with integrity, wit, humor, intelligence, and undeniable brass. It is quite simply impossible to watch this movie without being repeatedly shocked at the depth of its honesty. The supporting cast is also excellent, and Don Cheadle stands out as LD.
BULWORTH (1998) ***1/2
Starring: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, Isaiah Washington, and Christine Baranski Directed, produced, and written by Warren Beatty 108 minutes Rated R (for pervasive strong language, drug use, sexual references, and brief violence)
By Blake French:
I have seen a lot of movies in my time, but I have never seen anything as witty, as twisted, as entertaining, as outrageous, or as original as Warren Beatty's new political satire "Bulworth." It is, at times, funny, but at others very dark. I can't recall ever stating that a "serious comedy," is one of the years best films before. That was then, this is now--and "Bulworth" is truly one of the better film's of 1998.
As the movie opens, a US senator named Jay Billington Bulworth, hires a hit man to kill an individual of his desire. The hit man wonders exactly who this person is in which a man of such power wishes to eliminate. As it turns out, Bulworth has paid this hit man to kill his own suicidal self. "If I'm not dead by Monday, I'm canceling that check." Bulworth states firmly.
This is were the outrageous humor begins. During a campaign speech at a local African American church, Bulworth goes seemingly nuts. He begins to tell the citizens the truth about subjects in congress that most politicians would never think of revealing to the general public. His representative, Dennis Murphy, who cares only about getting Bulworth elected, almost faints in shock and disbelief. But you have to understand, these are the last days that Bulworth will be experiencing life, so why not reveal secrets, release envelop pushing information, and start up controversy with the nation with his last breaths.
"Never make life of death decisions when you're suicidal," explains Bulworth during one of the film's more invigoration sequences. He is talking to a woman named Nina, whom he met nonchalantly during one of his presentation speeches. The two of them fall in love. Too bad Bulworth has not taken his own advice typed above, for his death is near. But is Nina who she appears to be? Is his wife, Constance Bulworth, having an affair with another man? Is Bulworth's demise in the near future? All suitable questions that will all be answered when you see the movie.
Parts of the film do not work. For instance, the subplot involving Bulworth's wife who is adulterous just isn't detailed enough, nor are the characters introduced, for us to even consider this anything but a gimmick. True, the affair does symbolize chaos preoccupied in his household, and establishes another reason for him to be suicidal. Still, it's too small for a movie that offers so many good qualities.
"Bulworth" has a detailed opening that provokes empathy for our main character, Jay Bulworth. We learn of an external problem, Jay being involved in a heated presidential campaign, and an internal problem, Jay being suicidal and calling a hit on himself. The structure only goes uphill from there, and that is hard to do. Both conflicts are evolved, with Nina, Bulworth's sense of honesty, the hit man's presence, and several character & plot twists in which someone is not who they appear to be.
Along with some very dramatic and meaningful moments found in "Bulworth," also contained is dialogue that is smart, witty, and at times hilarious. The first shock value sequence is truly outrageous, and the films unabashed sense of eagerness only gets more perverse; the film is rated R for appropriate reasons, mostly coming from Bulworth's style of life he becomes involved with. The situations we're facing here are quite controversial, but Warren Beatty directs the film with a certain humorous touch. He uses effective but bizarre camera angles, and a hip cinematographer that creates aggressive chemistry between Beatty and Halle Berry during their "party animal" scenes together.
The performances in "Bulworth" entirely demonstrate that Warren Beatty is not only able to direct, write and produce well, but also that capable to lead an all star cast, including Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, Isaiah Washington, and Christine Baranski, into an Oscar worthy overall appearance level. All of these things contribute to making "Bulworth" is of the better films of 1998, and I recommend it highly.
Brought to you by Twentieth Century Fox.
In BULWORTH Warren Beatty gives one of his funniest and most outrageous
performances. This sharp political satire is even more timely now than
it was in 1998. This is a marvelously subversive movie on several
fronts: politics, race, economics, Hollywood itself! Beatty stars as a
fading senator from California who is so burned out he arranges for a
large insurance policy and then hires a hit man. He's at the end of his
rope personally and professionally. He's losing in a primary election
to a young gun and has nothing left in his life. After days without
sleep or eating he is dragged off to a rally at a Black church. He
starts to read his "usual" speech but almost in a state of delirium he
starts answering questions HONESTLY. He enrages the Black congregation
with his brutal answers but somehow feels buoyant. Outside the church
as the mobs surround him he runs into Halle Berry and her friends and
they all take off in the limo.
This starts a voyage of discovery for Beatty. Of course at this point Beatty is also running from the hit man. His new honesty unleashes a desire to live. They arrive at a Black hip-hop club where Beatty drinks, smokes pot, and is transformed by the loud urban rap music. The dance scene with Beatty and Berry is remarkable.
Next stop is a speech at a fancy Hollywood hotel filled with film executives. Beatty makes many comments of how Jews run Hollywood, becomes rich, but turn out a crappy product. Next comes a debate with his political opponent, and finally an interview. The new Beatty parrots back much of what he has heard from poor Blacks but of course he has always known the truth. His sense of freedom from the back-room politics of Washington is exhilarating and his new voice reaches the masses of disenfranchised voters. His comments about the media and how it is controlled by corporate America is more apt now (during the Bush administration) than ever before.
Beatty is brilliant, and this ranks as one of his very best performances. Berry is actually good as well in her pre-movie star mode when she still bothered to act. Oliver Platt scores as the political aide. Paul Sorvino is a lobbyist for the insurance industry.
Jack Warden, Helen Martin, Don Cheadle, Christine Baranski, Florence Stanley, Laurie Metcalf, Sean Astin, Isaiah Washington, Nora Dunn, Joshua Malina, William Baldwin, Hart Bochner, Armelia McQueen, and Jackie Gayle co-star.
Filled with humor, political insights, and top-notch performances. This acid look at politics in Amerca is more timely now than ever. Bravo to Warren Beatty!
Other than a few forced silly moments, this is the sharpest, darkest,
bravest. most disturbing political satire out of Hollywood since
This is Beatty's career best performance by far, making his rapidly breaking down liberal Democrat Senator into a character simultaneously howlingly funny, pitiable, admirable, wince inducing, pathetic and horrifying.
Beatty has made a film that walks the razor's edge right along with it's lead character, playing into deliberately provoking racial and cultural stereotypes at the same time it shreds them.
This isn't a polite "the system needs fixing" movie, it's an in-your-face scream that the system is broken, perhaps beyond all repair. That idea seems only more timely now.
I wasn't exactly sure how to rate this film, and I bet others weren't
either. It's difficult to say but fascinating to watch. Some scenes are
terrific, others just terrible trash.
Halle Berry plays anything but a likable lead, nor are the characters people you can root for, except for Oliver Platt in the first half of the film. Then he totally changes.
Nonetheless, this is Warren Beatty's film, anyway. He dominates it and is what makes the movie fun. Knowing him and knowing this was political, I expected big-time Liberal propaganda but didn't find any heavy-handedness there.
For a comedy, there are way, way too many f-words, even in the "music," if you want to call it that. Despite that, the film has some charm, if it's possible to use that word in a film this profane. Beatty's rap lyrics were genuinely funny, no matter what your political persuasion might happen to be. An odd film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bulworth may have been filmed in the MTV quick edit way that some find
unfitting for an Oscar worthy production but, aesthetics aside, its
contents are right on the mark.
Anyone who claims Beatty's/Bulworth's analysis and solutions to political problems are dated, must be living under a rock. As we speak, Bulworth's claims that "white people have more in common with black people than with rich people" are proved to be completely accurate as we look at the devastating aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Though New Orleans' population consists largely of blacks and ethnic minorities, those who were left behind had ONE common denominator: they are infirm either economically or physically i.e. they are POOR or HEALTH CHALLENGED. The TV-images show poor white people among the many poor blacks. Poverty is what sets them both back. Bulworth dated? You must be living in a socio-economically comfortable cocoon.
If anything, Beatty proved with this, both hilarious as bluntly accurate, brilliant movie to be a visionary. He puts his finger on where it hurts most: the complete corruption of the system, the hand-clapping, backslapping deals between interest groups and politicians, turning the last group into mouthpieces for selfish agendas. The hypocrisy behind the photo ops (look at Bush yesterday on the news posing with hurricane victims), the empty rhetoric, the feigning to be there for the people, when really they're only there for themselves.
People who cannot come up with more than "this is socialist rhetoric/propaganda" comments are obviously deaf, dumb and blind to the realities of (modern day) politics and therefore deserve to be duped by the leaders they so willingly, blindly, wish to trust, believe and follow. It really is true folks: "Tax payers, tax payers, take it in the rear". Wake up and smell the dung, for goodness sake!
Now for the movie itself. Some have commented that Beatty, as an affluent, middle-aged (by now senior citizen) WHITE man, cannot possibly understand what "ordinary people" go through. Think again. Beatty has been in politics for the Democrats for decades. He is one of the very few rich (DEMOCRATIC) guys who actually gives a damn about the less privileged of our society. Being rich does not equate being unable to educate oneself, nor does being white. Beatty's always had many contacts and friends in the black community with whom he exchanged ideas and concerns.
I'm colored and found nothing about the movie stereotypical or racially offensive AT ALL. Those who do, including blacks, are missing the larger picture this movie is trying to paint. Bulworth is not intended as a "white Messiah" for the "stereotypical hoodlum blacks". He is a metaphor and as a wake-up call, he NEEDS to be an extreme. The movie would not have worked if Bulworth had been a black senator, a young senator, or if Bulworth had met a white single mother Starbuck's employee. When you want to reach people, you have to wake them up, you have to make them sit up, take notice, think, and start discussing what they have just seen. THAT's exactly what this movie in THIS chosen format, with these characters, does. It completely serves its purpose. Unfortunately those who oppose the movie are even unaware that their criticism is a credit to this movie, for it apparently made them think (even if they arrive at mixed up, not understanding conclusions).
Bulworth is not perfect, but its imperfections are easily forgiven. The movie keeps moving without a dull moment in it. Beatty is hilarious and totally enjoying his part (and his freedom?) addressing everything that's wrong in this sick society with a zeal and energy that many guys half his age must envy. I love the fact that this is the first movie in which Warren dares to look his age. He has never been afraid to ridicule himself in past movies. Anybody who's into Beatty knows that horse-face Carly Simon's "You're so vain" most definitely is NOT about him. The rest of the cast is simply fantastic, too. Oliver Platt is rib-crackingly funny as the concerned, confused and finally mentally broken down campaign manager Murphy. He elevates the term "spin-doctor" to complete new heights! Joshua Malina (campaign aid Feldman) is almost as funny. Platt and Malina have some hilarious scenes together. Old Beatty favorite, veteran actor, Jack Warden is solid as ever. Halle Berry's character could have used a bit more humor, but she does a good job. Yes, it is a bit of a stretch that the gorgeous Nina would fall for the "used to be gorgeous too, but not so much anymore" aging Bulworth, but to state that without looking deeper into how she comes to her choice, is to ignore a significant part of the movie. At first she doesn't know what to make of this, seemingly confused, man. But as she follows him, his actions, his words, his attitude, she discovers that he is sincere. That combined with him being in a position in which he could actually make a much needed difference in society, makes her "change her mind" and fall for him. It's not like this young girl Nina has some geriatric preferences in the romantic department! Ariyan A. Johnson and Michele Morgan are amusing as the two enthusiastic new Bulworth "VOOOOOOLUNTEEEEEEEEEEEEERS". Paul Sorvino, Richard Sarafian, Don Cheadle are all solid. Yes, the turnaround of L.D. in the end is too quick in the making, but the alternative would be a (much) longer movie, so that's one of the very few weaknesses in the script. Last comments: - NO, Bulworth does not "only speak in rap" once he's started rapping. - NO, Bulworth is not some aging actor's ego trip. It's a wake-up call to America. - Never knew a 60 plus year old white guy could look so hilariously cute in hip hop gear. - Let the spirit take hold of you, and let it lead you to take action, now that Bulworth has been silenced.......
I should have known this movie was going to be good because it came
highly recommended by Matt Lueck, who seems to be very picky about what
he considers "good" movies. This movie was exceptional.
If you don't like politics, this film might not be for you. Or maybe it would be for you even more, since all it does is attack the political system. Warren Beatty stars as a Seantor who is sick of all the lies and crap in Washington, so he takes out a life insurance policy and hires a hit-man to kill him. After partying with some ghetto people (including Halle Berry) he sees the error of his ways and tries to call the hit off. The rest of the film follows this path.
I liked the storyline of the film, but more so I liked the nuggets it dropped along the way. The claims of politicians using minorities, the reality of drug culture, the fact that greed controls health care in this country. I found myself agreeing with almost everything in this film (though the part about the elimination of all races went too far). The ending was also exactly what I expected it to be - and what I felt it should have been. Only they added an aspect I hadn't considered and I think it made the film so much better. (I'm being vague so as not to give anything away.) Warren Beatty rapping is both comical and annoying. But if you look past his "wack skillz" and listen to what he has to say about corporations, big oil, TV networks and more, you'll get so much more out of this film. I'm also not a fan of Halle Berry, but she was probably the best person for the role so I'm okay with that. Hooray for Oliver Platt and Sean Astin, both looking very slim in this movie.
Not the best film you'll see this year, but highly recommended just the same.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Screenplay: Conceived by Beatty himself, Bulworth was committed to
paper by an extraordinarily versatile trio: co-writer of one of
Beatty's earlier forays Jeremy Pikser, James Toback, the adaptor of
Bugsy, and Aaron Sorkin, whose renowned machine-gun fire dialogue is no
stranger to politics (see The West Wing). The result is,
unsurprisingly, imbalanced. The plot follows Democratic Senator Jay
Bullington Bulworth, a man who has become so jaded by the American
political system that he has taken a contract out on his own life,
after "purchasing" $10 million worth of life insurance. This all takes
place leading up to his campaign for re- election and so, with a new
reckless, go for all outlook on life, he starts speaking the truth. As
a rap. Yes, a rap. Warren. Beatty. Rapping. Politics. Rap. Ping.
Strangely, and really bloody unexpectedly, it works! Most of the
time... Kind of. I mean, how well would you expect something like that
to work? In a sophisticated satire? The context is sort of there: he
begins rapping to appeal to the disparaged and African-American
community, where most of the focus is directed during this film. Most
of what is said by Bulworth pokes holes in the financial support that
insurance companies offer to candidates on both sides of the water,
usually so as to enlist a vote against bills that force these companies
in having to extend free health care or other such coverage to, yep,
African-Americans. Not everything that he says sticks; actually, to be
honest, I didn't even follow some of the logic he was spouting. But
maybe I just don't have sufficient understanding of American politics.
At any rate, the script is at it's best with moments of total
uninhibitedness ("Everybody just got to keep f*cking each other till
we're all the same colour.") and when it takes its time to make a
point, as opposed to just dropping "the N word" incessantly.
Actors: Beatty's not much of a rapper. Well, that's alright I suppose. I'm a white boy from Tasmania, so who am I to judge? What's important is that he makes us believe Bulworth's erratic and quixotic frame of mind, which he does most of the time. It helps that, when he can't, he's usually operating on one or more mind-altering substances. And his chemistry with the sexy and savvy Halle Berry is palpable, making their connection surprisingly touching on some level.
Direction: Beatty has never made a bad film. He's been in a few, to be sure (Love Affair, Town & Country), but he has yet to direct a film of sub-par quality. Here, he applies a basic yet effective formula to filming Bulworth, immersing us in the unfamiliar settings that the eponymous character himself is amongst and juxtaposing us in a way that makes us empathise. We feel as out of place in these night clubs and ghetto back streets as Bulworth, but the stiltedness slowly subsides to suggest a gradual ease that he begins to feel. Nothing to get excited over, but well-executed with appropriate measure.
Potential for repeat viewings: My second viewing, and I would happily watch it again... In a while. Some might be put off by the ending(s), but I like them; the first one seems a little phony and too neat until the true ending reveals itself, adding a dignified poignancy to the film. I feel I've not said enough about the humor in this film, and I should point out that it is very funny. Not the laugh out loud sort of funny that some prefer; the humor is not obvious, not brazen or expectant of hearty bellows. But it is quietly amusing, requiring only a wry grin or occasional chuckle to be fully appreciated. And, joy of all joys, most of the time it is very, very clever. Far cleverer than me, at any rate.
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