Bulworth Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

If I'm not dead by Monday morning, I'll put a stop payment on that check.

The comic premise of a man eschewing the usual lies and daily doublespeak in favor of telling the truth, regardless of the consequences, has been used to great effect before. In "Crazy People", Dudley Moore played an advertising executive who decides to create brutally honest advertising slogans, and in "Liar Lair", Jim Carrey was a lawyer who had to survive an entire day without saying a lie. "Bulworth", the latest political satire to hit the theaters this year, after "Wag the Dog" and "Primary Colors", uses this 'truth be damned' premise to make director Warren Beatty's decidedly left-wing views more palatable for mainstream audiences.

I believe that welfare should be a hand-up, not a hand-down.

It is 1996, and the California Primaries are rapidly approaching, and the incumbent Senator for the state of California, Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty), is up for re-election. As he sits in his office alone, watching a tape of his numerous television advertisements, he cannot help but feel disgusted as he watches his on-screen persona utter tirades against welfare, affirmative action, and the poor. He is disillusioned by what he has become-- instead of the former idealist who stood next to the great civil rights advocates of the Sixites, he is now a Democrat spouting Republican neo-conservative dogma. Unable to see any future for himself after the election, Bulworth decides to commit suicide by having a price put on his head, which will leave $10 million of insurance money for his daughter.

You can have a Billion Man March, but if you don't put down your malt liquor and chicken wings and get behind someone other than a running back that stabs his wife, you'll never get rid of someone like me!

On his supposed last day of life, Bulworth goes about his normal routine of electioneering, though he sports a more irreverent and relaxed attitude towards the proceedings, without a care for what he does or what he says. While addressing an African-American congregation, he discards the speech prepared for him in favor of coming clean on why his administration ignored the needs of the African-American community-- because they didn't contribute enough money to his campaign fund. Later on, at a posh cocktail reception stacked with movie executives, he launches an attack on the poor quality of contemporary Hollywood product and how his government policies have been influenced by their exuberant political donations. This giddy sense of liberation carries over well into the night as Bulworth stops by an all-night booze can to party with some fly girls that have volunteered to help with Bulworth's campaign. One of these women is Nina (Halle Berry), an angry young black woman disillusioned by the many platitude-bearing politicians who have failed to deliver on their promises, and sees a glimmer of hope in Bulworth's new campaign platform.

He's rhyming now... he's talking in rhymes. It's very distressing.

The liberation from the scripted lies and the golden handshakes brings about a renewed sense of activism in the jaded politician. His 'new' campaign strategy wins him new supporters, at the expense of the very rich and the very right-wing, and Bulworth once again believes that he can make a difference. However, this new lease on life is cut short when he finds that it is much more difficult to call off the hit than it was to set it up. With a pilgrimage that takes him from televised debates, to $1000-a-plate fundraisers, to the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of Compton, while dodging an unknown assassin and the story-hungry press, Bulworth sports a new look, shedding the power suits and silk ties for energetic hip-hop gear and politically-charged rap sessions.

You gotta be a spirit, not a ghost!

While entertaining the audience with his seemingly-innocuous 'fish out of water' political satire, Warren Beatty levels some serious criticism at the American political process, where the well-heeled lobbyists and special interest groups have the ear of the powerful, often at the expense of their less-fortunate opponents. While this cinematic pontification doesn't always hit the mark, Beatty is successful in creating a lively yet thought-provoking look at the status quo. Of course, Warren Beatty is no stranger to portraying the anti-establishment perspective on film, with his numerous directorial efforts, such as "Reds".

The film is also well-rounded by solid performances from an excellent cast. Beatty is dynamic as Senator Bulworth, who deftly manages the Senator's transition from indifferent moderate to passionate visionary (and he's not a bad rapper, either). Oliver Platt is hilarious as Bulworth's overly-stressed campaign manager, who ineffectually tries to help his employer through his 'madness'. The only soft spot in the cast would be Halle Berry, though it is probably more a function of her ambiguously-written character, whose muddled motivations stretches her credibility as a love interest.

"Bulworth" is a great piece of political satire, achieving a greater level of comic energy than "Wag the Dog" and "Primary Colors" combined. Though the pedantry does become overbearing in spots, there's still enough insight and humor to carry the film. Throw in a great soundtrack featuring some def urban grooves, and you have what is probably the best political satire this year.

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