Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Bulworth

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 27, 1999

We stand at the doorstep of a new millenium.

Special features

Cast Information5

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth suffers a nervous breakdown and falls in love with Halle Berry. I don’t think you need psychological problems for that. He also decides to start being honest during his campaign speeches, and that’s where the fun starts.

RecommendationRent Soon!
DirectorWarren Beatty
WriterWarren Beatty
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality6
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox

“Are you saying the Democratic party doesn’t care about the African-American community?” “Isn’t it obvious? What are you gonna do, vote Republican?” Ha! I used those exact words writing about “Nobody for President”. I tend to disagree with Bulworth’s solutions, but less with his analysis of the problems. And I absolutely agree that it would be wonderful if politicians could be honest about their own political goals. As long as there is a professional political class this will never happen, but it makes for a great movie.

“Bulworth” takes place before the 1996 elections, but after it was pretty clear that President Clinton was going to be re-elected. Voter apathy reigned, but ex-progressive Jay Billington Bulworth of Los Angeles is locked into a neo-conservative race 180 degrees around from his views back when he started politics in the sixties or seventies. Which would be fine if he’d honestly changed his opinions, but he hasn’t: he just says whatever he has to to get reelected, and votes however he has to in order to get money to campaign for reelection.

Jay Billington Bulworth has gone totally around the bend. He hates the new him so much he’s hired a hit man to kill himself. The scene in which Mr. Johnson takes the hit and expresses surprise that the photos are of Bulworth himself is wonderfully acted. In fact, Warren Beatty’s acting throughout the entire movie is almost always right on target, perfectly timed. I have never been a particularly big fan of Beatty, but here he is perfectly in the groove.

After hiring the hit man, he then coerces a ten million dollar life insurance policy, with his daughter as beneficiary, out of the insurance lobby. And then he heads out on the campaign trail. But starting his standard say-nothing speech in a predominantly African-American church, he realizes that he no longer needs to worry about reelection. So he cuts the speech short, takes questions, and speaks his mind. Completely. And boy, does that feel good! It feels so good he keeps right on doing it throughout the weekend’s campaign stops.

One of the better scenes is where some Hollywood movie producers ask about his position on government controls over movies, and he turns the question around: “the amazing thing is just how bad most of your movies really are. You make violent movies, dirty movies, family movies… none of them are any good. Why is that? It must be the money. It turns everything to crap.” It looks as though this movie had its bit of Hollywood meddling as well, requiring the addition of a love interest in Halle Berry. Of course, the romance could also be wishful thinking on Warren Beatty’s part. He’s got a reputation in Hollywood for that sort of thing, and with his rumored desire to run for office may be hoping that he’ll get the same opportunities in Washington. It’s great to see Warren Beatty singing about nappy dugout, in any case.

The ending is also a bit of a disappointment. I found it too trite, and it skirts the issue of how we really deal with honest people in politics. We trivialize them and we marginalize them, but we leave them available to laugh at every once in a while. There are better and more insidious ways of removing leaders from the spotlight today than there were in the sixties. The ending is only a disappointment, however, because the movie as a whole is so good, and so intelligently done, it is disappointing to see it devolve to formula at the end.

I find this movie to be eminently rewatchable. As far as the DVD goes, though, there isn’t much else about this disk to make it attractive. It isn’t even anamorphic. A movie this controversial really deserves a commentary track by the director—and in this case lead actor. If the movie were lower priced, it would still be a definite purchase even without any extras, but at $35 list and $25 street, you may find it a bit steep for just a movie. Note that Amazon actually has it for $28, as it is categorized as a low-seller and thus only gets the 20% discount. Fox: drop the price and make it enhanced. (I managed to find it for $15 at a sale, but I was pretty lucky to do so.) Regardless, you should definitely watch the movie at least once. If you don’t buy it, rent it.

Recommendation: Rent Soon!

DirectorWarren Beatty
WriterWarren Beatty
ActorsWarren Beatty, Jack Warden
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Special FeaturesCast Information, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Bulworth…

For more about Jack Warden, you might also be interested in All the President’s Men.

For more about political, you might also be interested in Being There, Wag the Dog, Losing America, and Taking Heat.