Bulworth is a movie with a political message, and Warren Beatty – who stars, writes, directs and produces – knows this. So, instead of dancing around and prettying up the political message, Beatty smashes it over our heads like a sledgehammer. The hit is not at all painful though; Beatty approaches the political aspect of the film in a cynical and humorous way.
In March 1996, Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty) is in a fierce battle to be reelected. It is a rainy night and Bulworth is sitting in his office crying while watching his own campaign ads. He’s not crying because his ads touch his heart; he’s crying because he’s sick of all the lies he’s propagated and promises broken because he took money from lobbyists and big companies. Bulworth is so depressed that he takes out a contract on his own life and it is from here that the movie picks up a lot of power.
Knowing that he only has a few more days to live, Bulworth takes this as a chance to speak what’s truly on his mind. He attends a meeting at a church in South Central L.A. where he bluntly tells the congregation that they need to put down the malt liqueur, stop complaining, and start doing something poor living conditions. He also tells them that it’s obvious that the political parties don’t care about them because they don’t donate enough money. In a dinner with big movie producers, Bulworth tells them how truly bad their work is.
Bulworth is ready to be hit until he meets Nina (Halle Berry) a woman inspired by his speech at the church. And from her he is taken into the ghettos of L.A. where he sees the injustices that go on there and learns a little about rap. Bulworth starts to wrap his political messages in rap lyrics and music. The lyrics to his rap “songs” are raw and angry but carry a strong good message.
Beatty starts Bulworth off with a lot of energy but as the film progresses, he loses some. The two speeches he makes, at the church and dinner, are the two most memorable scenes. A hilarious image is that of Beatty dressed gangster-style with knee length shorts, a large oversized sweatshirt, some funky sunglasses, and a knit cap. The movie rests on Beatty’s performance; he takes his part and runs with it. Beatty’s performance is brilliant.
Halle Berry does well as Nina but a better supporting role overshadows her performance. This is Oliver Platt (Executive Decision, Dangerous Beauty) as Bulworth’s hyperactive drug-addicted campaign manager who has to find all sorts of ways to stop Bulworth’s “shoot from the hips” speeches.
One thing that didn’t feel right about the film was the ending. The “convert” plot line, about a dope dealer, feels all wrong and the ambiguous ending is irksome.
The politics are clearly presented in Bulworth. Like them or not, you’ll love the film. It’s entertaining enough on one level to keep you laughing and attentive. On a deeper level, Bulworth shoves some rather frightening political views down your throat. Beatty has written, directed, and acted a brilliant film. If compared to the last two political films that I’ve seen, Wag the Dog and Primary Colors, I would have to say this: Bulworth has the cynicism of Wag the Dog bumped up a few notches and it is brave enough to go where Primary Colors skirted away from. Don’t Miss Bulworth.
Edited by Cher Johnson.