I'd like to say that Bulworth is the best political satire in years, but the truth is that is has
tough competition from Barry Levinson's corrosive Wag the
Dog in that department. Both films succeed admirably, but, although each takes aim at
the sorry state of current-day politics, they have slightly different agendas and approaches.
Wag the Dog dissects the showmanship aspect of Washington, while simultaneously firing
a few shots at Hollywood. Bulworth, on the other hand, is a full-frontal assault on the
shallowness of the political campaign process. It has the audacity that Primary Colors should have displayed, but was afraid
to. Bulworth is willing to openly offend to get its point across. That's something that
Primary Colors was nervous about doing.
In one sense, the film, put out by Warren Beatty with little concern for whose toes might get
stepped on, can be summed up as an attack on the growing conservatism of the Democratic party,
which is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish from its Republican rival.
Bulworth is unrepentantly cynical in its view that all politicians are in the back pockets of
big business and that every elected official, whether Democrat or Republican, is a member of an
exclusive club. Hypocrisy, self-interest, and greed are the three forces that drive every campaign,
and Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty) has had enough.
It's mid-March 1996, and Bulworth, an incumbent Senator from California, is running for re-
election. However, like the Michael Douglas character in Falling Down, he has reached the breaking point.
After taking out a $10 million life insurance policy with his 17-year old daughter as the sole
beneficiary, he puts out a contract on his own life, then goes on the warpath against special interest
groups. Discarding a prepared speech about the country standing "on the doorstep of a new
millennium," he tells an African-American audience that the government doesn't care about them
because they don't contribute enough money to re-election campaigns. Later, at a black tie dinner
attended by Hollywood types, he launches into a tirade about the poor quality of movies. To a
mostly-Jewish crowd, he declares, "My guys are not stupid. They always put the big Jews on my
schedule." Suddenly, Bulworth's "tell it like it is" philosophy is a national sensation, attracting the
attention of millions, including a young black woman named Nina (Halle Berry), who is determined
to show the Senator what life is like for those who live in South Central L.A. Right in the middle
of everything, Bulworth suddenly decides that he wants to live, but learns that calling off a hit isn't
as easy as setting one up.
Bulworth's only real weakness (and it's more in the nature of a minor inconvenience than a
significant flaw) is the backstory, which, with its disguised hit men, car chases, and bungled
assassination attempts, takes up a little too much time. The political satire, on the other hand, is
brilliant. Not only is it honed to a viciously sharp edge, but it's frequently hilarious. Beatty
manages to lampoon controversial issues, like kids selling drugs for dealers because they're too
young to go to prison, while simultaneously making serious points. In addition to the political
material, there are other targets, including the easy marks of tabloid reporters and TV news
programs. There's also a funny bit involving George Hamilton.
Beatty has assembled a solid, diverse cast. As the title figure, the co-writer/director sets himself up
as a sitting duck. Beatty is tremendous in this role, even going so far as to poke fun at how his
increasing age has affected his legendary sex appeal. He takes Bulworth from business suits to
sweatpants and sunglasses, and transforms his campaign speeches into angry rap songs, all
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