Bulworth is a daring film from Warren Beatty, a film maker
whose politics have always been left of centre and whose long career
has been driven by his very personal choice of projects. In this
cynical and scathing political satire Beatty tackles many of the more
obvious problems of the American democratic process, and the social
and economic divisions caused by race and class. Beatty, who is
credited as writer, producer and director, takes aim at a number of
targets and hits a few raw nerves along the way. Beatty could also be
accused of biting the hand that feeds him, as he attacks the major
motion picture studios, the corporations that buy political favours,
and the whole political process itself.
In the week before the Senate elections, Democrat Jay
Bulington Bulworth (Beatty) has become disillusioned by the hypocrisy,
the lies and the machinations of American politics and wants out. He
takes out a $10 million life insurance policy and then hires a hit man
to assassinate him. Freed of any sense of obligation, Bulworth then
feels able to speak his mind during the campaign. Rather than deliver
the same tired old speeches, he begins to tell the truth, informing
the voters of how little they actually mean to the politicians.
Suddenly, Bulworth becomes popular and reinvents himself as that
rarity - an honest, straight talking politician.
In the wave of euphoria following his sensational admissions,
Bulworth has second thoughts about his earlier decision, but finds
himself unable to call off the hit. Bulworth also finds romance with
the fiery, beautiful and intelligent Nina (Halle Berry, from Executive
Decision, etc), who hails from LA's black ghettos and the opposite end
of the political spectrum. However, her ideas and opinions open his
eyes to a lot that is wrong with his country and the government.
Another unexpected source of inspiration is found in L D (Don Cheadle,
from Devil In A Blue Dress, etc), a drug lord.
Bulworth follows on from those other sharp political satires
from last year, the timely Wag The Dog and Primary Colors. However,
Bulworth is nowhere near as clever, biting or as credible as those two
films, and at times is something of an undisciplined mess. As
co-writers, Beatty and long time collaborator Jeremy Pikser (Reds,
etc) seem to have bitten off more than they can chew in this ambitious
script. There are a couple of good ideas here, but they seem to get
lost in some unnecessary over plotting. The film ultimately lacks a
strong central focus. And those scenes where Bulworth, an angry old
man, proceeds to rail against corruption and apathy through rap songs
don't quite convince. For once, Beatty is playing closer to his age,
a haggard, weary and tired 60 something, and he seems to be enjoying
the experience. Oliver Platt gives a wonderfully manic performance as
Murphy, Bulworth's increasingly frustrated aide who attempts damage
control as he tries to keep his charge on the straight and narrow. A
number of celebrity cameos, from the ubiquitous Larry King through to
George Hamilton, add to the flavour of the film.
Despite its structural flaws though, Bulworth looks great,
thanks to Vittorio Storaro's superb cinematography and Dean
Tavoularis' production design.
Copyright © 1998 Greg King