Bullworth (1998) Review

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Bulworth remains just as funny and incisive now as it did back in 1998 when it scorched movie screens. Directed with verve by Warren Beatty and co-written with obscene ferocity by Beatty and Jeremy Pikser, the film stings with blunt truth, outlandish yet cogent satire, and an eerily prescient vibe that feels more and more bracing as the years have progressed. Beatty was absolutely hilarious in the lead role, playing a burnt out California Senator who is up for re-election but facing stiff competition, and who tips over the edge in every possible manner. Oliver Platt stole the show as his beleaguered campaign manager, delivering a hyperactive performance of intense comedic force; his cocaine bits are priceless. Halle Berry appeared as the unlikely love interest with a twist, while the assassination-for-hire subplot gets more amusing the more times it’s viewed. Vittorio Storaro’s edgy, tactile cinematography made smart use of physical locations, swerving in one direction for a moment and then the opposite the next, while projecting a jittery visual atmosphere that meshed perfectly with the emotionally and politically charged material and overall unpredictable tone.

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Don Cheadle, Jack Warden, Paul Sorvino, Amiri Baraka, Sean Astin, Isaiah Washington, and Christine Baranski as Bulworth’s constantly annoyed wife were all superb in supporting roles, especially Cheadle, who really grabbed his character and went for it. And I absolutely LOVE the final scene and shot and lines of dialogue and what it implies and leaves open for the viewer to interpret. Rumor has it that Aaron Sorkin and James Toback helped to write the script, and that the film was shot mostly in secret (only an outline was shown to studio execs), and released by 20th Century Fox who were fearful of a lawsuit stemming from their backing out of producing Beatty’s Dick Tracy. With hardly any major promotional efforts and only appearing in limited to medium theatrical release, the film grossed nearly $30 million domestic, and received Oscar and WGA nominations for Best Original Screenplay. Aggressively humorous, socially astute, and more timely than ever, Bulworth is long overdue the Blu-ray treatment, and is ripe for rediscovery as its message still feels sharp as a tack and wholly resonant.

Review by Nick Clement

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