thatcow

He's standing on the doorstep of a new millenium

I really like this movie. It's one I pull out to watch on a regular basis, in fact. But it's not really a work of art so much as Warren Beatty's personal political commentary. He co-writes, directs, and stars in this satirical comedy.

The short summary is that imcumbent Democratic senator Jay Bulworth has a breakdown and contracts for his own killing coming into the last campaign weekend before the primaries. Relieved of the pressures of being the candidate for everyone, he starts to speak frankly about the issues, gets turned onto urban black culture, and becomes a kind of foul-mouthed political wonder rapper in the process.

The plot is, blatantly, an excuse to express some opinions. It's background, a pastiche to play against. I'm split on this. Part of me would like a stronger plot - one that's more important to the story - but I don't know that it can be done here.

You see, the movie plays as a comedy, and that's a good choice. Bulworth and the various people following him around, simply bumble about whenever the assassination threat is active. Any attempt at a completely serious tone would bog down so far in the ideas that we wouldn't be able to breathe. Because, really, there's a lot of issues for the Bulworth character to complain about politically, it's easier to just let it spew forth and not have the moments be serious, even though the content is. It's really a masterful way to present the material.

What balls does Beatty have to completely ridicule the entertainment industry in a movie? He's got the clout to do it, for sure, and certainly there's no rush in his life to turn out hits. It's a matter of

I wonder if this movie plays to others who are not as sympathetic to Beatty's point of view. If you're in the oil or insurance business, a part of network news, or are a politician, or any of a number of other professions, you might find this somewhat uncomfortable, or perhaps something you explain away as someone's self-delusion.

You can even debate the appropriateness of the black and white sterotypes used in the film. This is something of a dark, modern fable, though, where the characters are there mainly to support the ideas that are being put across.

What's more interesting is figuring out how to read the ideas. Are we to understand that white people would feel more free by letting it all hang loose? Are we to understand the black people only ever let it hang loose? Are people forced into criminal behavior by desperate circumstances only waiting for the right opportunity to come fully back to the straight and narrow? I'll let you watch the movie to see where these questions come from - because to me, it's not so much the questions as the context that dictates the answers here. The opinion of the movie is all about how the political situation is fouled up in this country, and how people need to express themselves to open up honest discussions. It would be more interesting to take on some further questions, but sometimes you have to stay focused to express a point well, in a way people will listen to. It's important to set some of the deeper questions aside to appreciate the film, and the message it's trying to get across.

The cast does pretty well all around, inhabiting the caricatures that walk through the film. Oliver Platt further demonstrates his skills as Bulworth's campaign manager, a hyperkinetic, coke-sniffing ass-kisser. Halle Berry's performance feels a little held back in spots, but she has this certain ability to communicate things with her eyes which works very well here. Don Cheadle's Tums-swallowing L.D. - the substance supply "executive" - is a classic actor's creation. For as little screen time as he has, there is a real sense of depth and yearning in the character.

The production feels a little low budget in spots. Some of the incidental music plays like something out of a Bionic Woman episode - a little loud and unsubtle. The production design has some slightly odd moments, little visuals hidden in the frame, which aren't clear except as someone's inside joke. Some things are emphesized a bit too strongly. It all fits in with the fable interpretation of the film, but comes off a bit as a rushed editing job.

Bulworth is hardly a perfect film, but if you can take it at the level it's trying to speak to you at, it's certainly an effective one.

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