So, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Robert Redford’s Bill McKay after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of The Candidate, I imagine that he probably ended up becoming something like the protagonist of 1998’s Bulworth, U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth.
As played by Warren Beatty, Bulworth is a veteran senator. A former liberal firebrand, he may still decorate his office with pictures of him meeting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but Bulworth sold out a long time ago. Now, he just says whatever has to say in order to get elected, including pretending to have a happy marriage. He has become a part of everything that’s wrong with Washington.
Sick of both politics and life in general, Bulworth decides that he’d rather be dead. But, in order to make sure that his daughter collects on his $10,000,000 life insurance policy, Bulworth cannot commit suicide. Instead, he arranges for a contract to be taken out on his life. In two days, Bulworth will be assassinated.
Returning to California for his campaign, Bulworth gets drunk and suddenly starts to say what he actually believes. He attacks the Washington establishment. He attacks the voters. He attacks the insurance companies and comes out for single payer health insurance. With his desperate press secretary (Oliver Platt) chasing behind him, Bulworth spends the night dancing at a club where he discovers marijuana and meets a girl named Nina (Halle Berry).
(Platt, meanwhile, discovers that he really, really likes cocaine.)
Soon, Nina and Bulworth are hiding out in the ghetto, where Bulworth meets both Nina’s brother (Isiah Washington) and local drug dealer, L.D. (Don Cheadle), and gets a lesson about how economics actually work in the ghetto. Soon, Bulworth is appearing on CNN where he raps his new political platform and suggests that the solutions for all of America’s problems would be for everyone to just keep having sex until eventually everyone is the same color.
Of course, what Bulworth doesn’t know is that Nina also happens to be the assassin who has been contracted to kill him…
I have mixed feelings about Bulworth. On the one hand, the film starts out strong. You don’t have to agree with the film’s politics in order to appreciate the film’s passion, Bulworth is an angry film and one that’s willing to say some potentially unpopular things. It’s a film about politics that doesn’t resort to the easy solutions that were proposed by some of the other films that I’ve reviewed for Shattered Politics. Warren Beatty does a pretty good job of portraying Bulworth’s initial mental breakdown and Oliver Platt is a manic wonder as he consumes more and more cocaine.
But, once Warren Beatty starts rapping, the film starts to fall apart and becomes a bit too cartoonish for its own good. You get the feeling that Warren Beatty, at this point, is just trying to live out the liberal fantasy of being the only wealthy white man in America to understand what it’s like to be poor and black in America.
Bulworth starts out well but ultimately, it begins better than it ends.