Warren Beatty’s new film Bulworth is one of those rare movies that’s just adorable -- particularly if you’re an unreconstructed old social democrat like me. It’s a very funny film about a Democratic senator from California, played by Beatty, who’s happily on the take from every possible industry, doing everything he can to protect the big boys at the expense of the poor people. And then one day, just before the primary election, he gets religion of a sort. He takes a 10-million-dollar bribe in the form of an insurance policy on his life, with the beneficiary to be his daughter, and then he commissions a hit man to kill him.
So he feels free -- free at last, you might say -- and the movie is the story of the next few days, as he moves unexpectedly into a world that’s not, how shall I put this, quite so white and genteel and corrupt as where he’s been. In fact it’s the all-black world of south central L.A., filled with gangsta rap and hip hop and drug lords, and the gorgeous Halle Berry. And what happens to our senator, -- what happens is that Senator Bulworth goes wonderfully crazy for the whole black experience.
He raps, he hops, he hips, he dances, he’s mad for Halle Berry. Instead of going dutifully from fundraiser to tv debate to fundraiser to banquet he becomes his own man for the first time and tells it like it is. "My guys aren’t stupid," he tells the crowd of Hollywood heavy hitters at a Beverly Hills mansion. "They always put the rich Jews on my schedule."
He goes after the health care industry. "They take 24 cents out of every dollar just for their own profits. We need socialized medicine, like Canada has," he says at a banquet. And so on. I will tell you I just ate it up. After all, how long has it been -- well, other than Michael Moore’s films -- how long has it been since any of us have heard a major motion picture star talk like that on the screen? And mean it? Which Beatty does, by the way.
So Bulworth is a wild and crazy ride through those few days with the senator and what becomes his new entourage, with Don Cheadle as a South Central drug meister and some delicious black character actors, including a wonderful woman who plays Berry’s grandmother.
It’s a great whipped-up froth of a movie that zooms from moment to moment, carrying us along with it for the ride.
What it doesn’t have is an ending, but with that teeny little exception it’s just a kick from beginning to end -- mainly because it’s so amazingly bold for a Hollywood film. Beatty says his deal with the studio was that they gave him $38 million dollars and weren’t allowed to say a word unless he went over budget, which he didn’t, and this is the film he gave us with the dough.
A couple of other points you might be interested in. Beatty’s cinematographer here is the great Vittorio Storaro, who’s shot everything from Bertolucci’s ‘The Conformist’ to Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now.’ And the music, other than the rap and hip hop, was composed by the also very great Ennio Morricone, who has given us the themes from the Clint Eastwood-Sergio Leone films like ‘A Fistful of Dollars,’ plus ‘The Mission,’ among dozens of others.
That’s point one. Point two is that if you’re bothered by black ghetto language you’ll be very upset here. And point three, which is the shocking one, is that Beatty here looks and moves uncomfortably like Richard Nixon. Let’s hope it’s deliberate.