Bullworth (1998): Warren Beatty’s Oscar-Nominated Comeback as Actor, Director and Co-Writer

A comeback for Warren Beatty as actor, director, and co-writer, after a long period of inactivity, “Bullworth” is a charming political fable, suitable for our times.

It’s hard to dissociate the film from the context in which it was made and released, the end of the Bill Clinton administration.

Warren Beatty directed, co-produced (with Pieter Jan Brugge), co-scripted (with Jeremy Pikser), and stars in this political satire, a comedy drama about a U.S. senator who decides to start speaking “the truth,” though neither he nor the populace know what exactly it means.

Tale begins by showing the despondent California senator Jay Bulworth (Beatty), who’s up for reelection, getting disillusioned by the usual campaign demands and banalities.

Personally, too, his life leaves much to be desired, judging by his emotionally sterile and hollow marriage to Constance (comedienne Christine Baransk).

In the midst of creative stagnation, male menopause, and probably nervous breakdown, Bulworth goes without sleep or food for three days, before taking  out a ten-million-dollar insurance policy on himself while arranging his own assassination.

During a return to Los Angeles, where Bulworth is scheduled to speak at an African-American church in South Central, in a burst of spontaneity, he suddenly tosses aside his prepared and manipulative speech, which startles both the audience and his campaign manager, Murphy (Oliver Platt).  Is routine, fake speech with improvising truthful remarks, which seemingly come unrehearsed from his heart.

These loose-cannon salvos gain the attention of an attractive young woman, Nina (Halle Berry, at her most gorgeous). Soon, Bulworth finds an exhilaration with this new freestyle approach, and after shocking a gathering in Beverly Hills with further fulminations, Bulworth invites Nina and her girlfriends into his limo.

During a spaced-out sojourn at one of South Central’s more frenzied after-hours clubs, Bulworth gains respect for hip-hop culture. Still reeling from insights gained by this nightlife, he arrives the next day for a fundraising function at the Beverly Wilshire, startling everyone with a diatribe delivered in the intonations of a rap artist.

Bullowrth’s interest in Nina and his new optimistic outlook on life give him a sense of elation he has not experienced in decades, and a renewed will to live.

He phones to call off the hit, but the gears have been set in motion. After an assumed hitman turns up during a church appearance, Bulworth flees, and Nina offers him a hideout at the home of her family, veterans of the civil rights movement.

It’s here that Bulworth goes through the final steps in his transformation, making a Kennedy-styled connection with the disenfranchised, largely members of the working classes and ethnic minorities, as he tunes in to forgotten memories of the 1960s.

Outfitted in homeboy clothing, the born-again Bulworth heads for a TV station to unleash even more caustic comments on the American political scene.

Despite strong critical response, “Bullworth” dumped (rather than properly released) on the market by Twentieth-Century Fox, was a commercial flop.

“”Bullworth” is Beatty’s last decent film as actor and director: It’s preceded by the vastly disappointing (and unnecessary) remake “Love Affair” with his wife Annette Bening, and followed by the disastrous “Town and Country,” in 2004.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Original Screenplay: Jeremy Pikser, Warren Beatty.

 

Credits

Running time: 107 min.

Directed  by Warren Beatty

Released: May 22, 1998 Wide

DVD: March 16, 1999

20th Century Fox

 

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