Eye For Film >> Movies >> Bulworth (1998) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Satire is politics without the bullpats. Warren Beatty uses the form to talk dirty about democracy in the US of A, where (in his view) it rots in the streets of the ghetto, while fat cats feed off the spoils. He attacks obvious targets from a slightly different angle, without administering the coup de grace. Also, his trademark charm cannot disguise an acting deficiency.
This is California during Clinton's second-term primaries. Jay Bulworth, a Democrat, is on the campaign trail for his re-election into the Senate. The TV ads emphasise family values, with a mandatory golden lab, white picket fence and Stepford spouse. In fact, Mrs. B sleeps with the fleet, their marriage is crumbs and if they see each other at all, it's for a chat show, or photo op.
Unlike Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts, another satire on politics as media mulch, Beatty leaves the stage and has Bulworth crack up. He is so depressed, he takes out a whopping great life insurance policy in favour of his daughter, hires a hitman to have himself assassinated, and flies to LA, where he insults fund contributors by telling them where it's at, and spends the night raving in a South Central dive. The story grows wings when Bulworth meets Nina (Halle Berry), a lissome, young black girl, who appears to tolerate patronising oafishness from a senior white citizen. In his madness, Jay decides to live and tries unsuccessfully to call the hitman's boss to cancel the contract. Meanwhile, he continues to perform on the media circuit, except now he talks in rap rhyme, ever-conscious of the faceless marksman with his name on a bullet.
Subplots - Nina's hidden agenda, life in the hood with drug dealer, LD (Don Cheadle), the fear of instant death - are light relief from the usual shenanigans, orchestrated by Bulworth's coke-snorting chief-of-staff (Oliver Platt), and yet are incidental to the main message, that politics is a money business.
Bulworth is not an engaging character. He tumbles and fumbles through the miasma of public life, like the stoned host of a debutante ball. Beatty cannot decide whether to exaggerate wacky wrinkliness, or press for prizes in the turkey neck beauty contest. He is not a funny man, like Jack Lemmon. Comedy looks awkward on him. The film, however, has much to recommend it, not least Ms Berry, despite falling short of its objectives.Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2007