- Co-Written, Co-Produced, and Directed by Warren Beatty
- May 15, 1998
A suicidal politician plotting his own death begins to speak his mind while on the campaign trail.
Bulworth is a 1998 political satire black comedy film that takes on race, poverty, the healthcare system, at points Hollywood, and corporate control of the political agenda via Warren Beatty as suicidal California politician Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth who starts speaking his mind once he decides to have himself killed not only to end his life but to secure an insurance payout for his daughter at the exclusion of his wife Constance (Christine Baranski) whom he is with more for political purposes than anything.
What moves this story along is the fantasy many of us have of the politician speaking the unvarnished truth as they see it though I think most prefer to live with lies otherwise the fantasy would be a reality. This is Warren Beatty’s attempt at humor and political/social commentary. More often than not it works. Some of what he says and does here is strikingly on the nose when it comes to political thinking and political actions. I don’t agree with everything he puts forth, but he effectively delivers his point of view without beating you to death with it.
This satire highlights how politicians put on a face for the public and how their beliefs can be changed by the political winds and their actions by the offering of some money from a particular group. Bulworth is rather blunt in his assessment of things. Some of it can even border on offensive.
While somewhat on the superficial side we do get discussions of topics that were relevant then and still hold relevance now such as race and the economy and legislation. There are strikes at Hollywood and the insurance industry in a way that’s rather strong for then and now.
You as the viewer may not agree with everything put forth in this movie but the viewer will be left with something to think about when it comes to the topics it addresses. Warren Beatty does not necessarily beat you over the head with his point of view but rather wraps it up in an entertaining farce that gets past any preconceptions or biases you might have. That’s important for a director to do and not something that is done often enough or even well enough.
Our title character sets things in motion with something called ‘The Weekend Research Project’ which in reality is him contacting an intermediary to hire a hitman to kill him so that there can be a large insurance pay out to his daughter specifically. Interestingly though this daughter is the beneficiary of the policy and ultimately the plot, we never actually see her anywhere in the movie. There is a great deal of humor occurring because Bulworth has purposely set things up to not know who will kill him. When he decides he wants to live every odd individual makes him afraid and paranoid.
Also appearing is Halle Berry as Nina who Bulworth becomes attracted to, Oliver Platt as Bulworth’s campaign manager Dennis Murphy, Don Cheadle as drug dealer L.D., Paul Sorvino as insurance lobbyist Graham Crockett, Jack Warden, Isaiah Washington, Sean Astin, Michael Clarke Duncan, Laurie Metcalf and Paul Mazursky. That is not a bad cast for the era.
Politicians and political figures or general celebrities are mentioned or featured in the film such as President Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, Newt Gingrich, Barbara Boxer, Pat Buchanan, Alan Simpson, Sen. Bill Bradley, Colin Powell, Clint Eastwood, George Bush, Huey P. Newton, and Robert F. Kennedy among others. It helps to blur the lines of fantasy and reality as intended. What struck me watching this were of those mentioned/appeared how many were still in office or had just left.
Whether or not Bulworth actually dies is let up to the viewer. Does he survive the eventual attempt on his life? The viewer is left to draw their own conclusion on that as the final shot occurs outside of a hospital.
An elderly homeless man (Amiri Baraka) who bookends the film is seen standing outside of the hospital where Bulworth has been taken asking Bulworth to not be a ghost but a spirit and asks the same of the audience. What this all means is not clear but does give the story a bit of a parable feel.
With a great script and a well-executed premise at the hands of Warren Beatty, Bulworth is an excellent political satire that manages to remain relevant today. This is something that not only the politically minded will enjoy but others will as well. I definitely say take a look!