Pros: The sheer audacity and political incorrectness of it, original storytelling.
Cons: Some imperfections
Warren Beatty’s 1998 dramedy/satire Bulworth is one film that made a minor impact at the time. But seems to have been forgotten by much of the public. Wag The Dog, another political satire from the same period, seems to be more well-remembered.
Shame too, for Bulworth is a damn good movie. Co-written and directed by Beatty, it’s an effective illustration of the disgust the writer/director/star felt with American politics in the 90s.
Beatty stars as Senator Jay Billington Bulworth, an old-school liberal who finds himself out of place in the sound-bite driven politics of today. We first see him sitting in his office, listening to a looped clip of himself saying “we are on the doorstep of a new millennium”. This is your basic political spin and Bulworth has had enough of it. We see early on a picture of him with the late Robert Kennedy and another with Martin Luther King.
So Bulworth decides its time to end it all. But just committing suicide means his daughter won’t get the life insurance policy money. So he arranges for a hitman to kill him in two days. Freed now from the facade of having to say what people want to hear he starts telling people the truth.
At a black church in South Central Los Angeles, he tells a crowd that they reason they didn’t get federal funding they were promised to help rebuild the city after the 1992 riots is because they didn’t contribute enough to his campaign. Zing! Later on, he talks before a group of predominantly Jewish Hollywood moguls and tells them that most of what they produce is crud. Zing!
Immediately after his statements at that church in South Central a group of attractive black women start following him. One of those women is Nina (Halle Berry). Later on, she will play a prominent role in the story.
While Bulworth has some serious statements to make about politics, it does so in an entertaining fashion. After Bulworth and Nina go to a club in Compton and he’s exposed to hip-hop culture, he starts rapping his speeches. As a rapper, Bulworth is far from Rakim. But he does it entertainingly enough that it works.
While I always thought Beatty was a tad overrated as an actor, he pulls off his role as the senator convincingly. We see the world weariness and apathy he feels in the beginning and the zest for life he feels later on is conveyed effectively. Beatty the writer/director doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at Beatty the actor and that’s essential for what we have here.
While the political satire elements are fantastic, a few of the plot elements in general aren’t as well-done. After revealing the truth and finding a new love for life, Bulworth tries to call off the hit. But he can’t reach the assassin and so he must evade him. This part of the plot doesn’t work as well as the political stuff or the romance between Beatty and Berry. Also, one particular character twist towards the end is pretty obvious.
Even with these flaws, Bulworth is still one of the better recent satires. Good acting, the pure audacity of it and a superb soundtrack (featuring former Fugee Pras’s hit “Ghetto Supastar”) make this one worth viewing. Or if you like it enough, owning, seeing as it can be found cheap at Amazon and other places.