USA 1998

Reviewed by Richard Kelly


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

1996, the eve of US primary elections. Jay Bulworth, Democratic senator for California, promises lobbyist Graham Crockett he will obstruct a healthcare bill in return for $10 million of life insurance. Intending to provide for his family, Bulworth contracts his own assassination with mobster Vinnie. At a South Central Los Angeles church, Bulworth abandons his campaign speech to tell the black congregation that the Democratic Party disdains them. Outside, he is intrigued by a young woman, Nina. At a Hollywood party, he denounces the film industry. Bulworth feels revitalised. He accompanies Nina to a rap club, but fears his assassin is pursuing him.

At a fundraiser the next day, Bulworth 'raps' a tirade against big business to an appalled audience. Bulworth decides to cancel his assassination, but is thwarted by Vinnie's death. Bulworth is unaware that Nina is his contracted killer. During a television debate, Bulworth lambasts the networks and alienates Crockett. His aide Murphy sabotages proceedings but realises Bulworth's outspoken approach is impressing people. Bulworth hides out with Nina's family. Wearing hip-hop clothes, Bulworth gives a controversial television interview. Afterwards, he and Nina are cornered by the 'assassin' - actually a paparazzo. Back at Nina's, she confesses her secret, but lets him live. Bulworth wins the election, and the media descend on Nina's home. She and Bulworth kiss before the cameras; but he is shot dead, the bullet coming from a vantage where Crockett was lurking moments earlier.


Just how much of a Marxist is Warren Beatty? Perhaps this question has never detained younger film fans, who might know Beatty only as a semi-legendary seducer and the perpetrator of Dick Tracy (1990). But consider the red thread political thread which runs through his acting credits alone: Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and Shampoo (1975), Bugsy (1991) and (yes) Ishtar (1987). Beatty has always professed a certain idea of the Left, and he has the cuttings to prove it. Prominent amid Bulworth's set-dressing are authentic snapshots of Beatty with Robert Kennedy and Huey P. Newton: incompatible ghosts of a radical past. Beatty was a vigorous cheerleader for George McGovern in 1972, and throughout the 80s he counselled Gary Hart, albeit to little obvious avail. Between these engagements, he was a charismatic incarnation of John Reed in Reds (1981), extolling Bolshevism to the American proletariat.

Now, here's Bulworth, a polemical assault on present US political torpor. As with Reds, Beatty wears the Wellesian mantle of star-writer-producer-director. "What animated Hollywood in the 70s," Beatty recently opined, "was politics. You can mark the end of that with the election of Carter. There's nothing that can destroy the Democratic Party like a Democrat." American leftists have swallowed this poisonous lesson for several decades now, so it comes as quite a thrill when, midway through Bulworth, Beatty's campaigning senator throws down an unfashionable gauntlet: "Lemme hear that dirty word - socialism!"

Bulworth's fundamental plank - that the Republican and Democratic Parties are bankrolled by the same venal corporate élite - is a numbing truism. Bulworth, mortally ashamed of his part in this puppet-show, abandons the 'bipartisan' drivel of his stump speeches (Clintonoid-Blairesque staples such as "I believe in a hand-up, not a hand-out") and becomes a holy fool. Initially, he can muster only a stream of 'incautious' remarks - impoverished blacks should lay off the malt liquor, Hollywood's "Big Jews" should quit churning out garbage - seemingly tailored by Beatty to generate nervous laughter in the cinemas. But gradually, the road of 'politically incorrect' excess leads Bulworth to radical wisdom, and he bites the hand of the corporate oligarchy which has sustained him.

Naturally, being a Beatty hero, Bulworth is doomed - much like The Parallax View's patsy journalist Joe Frady. But Bulworth has bigger fish to indict than the conspiratory phantom that was the Parallax Organisation. Here, real menace is revealed, in the precise form of those profiteers from the US medical-insurance racket. Lurking behind these scoundrels, Bulworth implies, is the present Democratic incumbent of the oval office. Clinton slouched to power in 1992 pledging to deliver universal healthcare, and so abolish the strict fee-for-service fiddle which does such violence to the United States' poor. But he capitulated, shamefully, before the bullish lobbying of the insurance industry.

So where stands the Bulworth ticket on healthcare? In the film's linchpin scene, Bulworth publicly rebukes his insurance paymasters, calling for a single-payer, socialised national health system. Facing down the tissue-thin consensus that governments are best run like private corporations, Bulworth makes a stirring case for statism: "You think these pigs are gonna regulate themselves?" asks the senator.

Bulworth's wrangles with race are a bit trickier. Admirably, Beatty has argued that class is a more formidable social partition than skin colour. Nevertheless, his movie is possessed by a very Los Angelean notion that the US suffers from a specific Black Problem, compounded of drugs, guns and inveterate gangsterism. But Bulworth is also suggestive of the Democratic Party's very own Problem With Blacks. In the 70s, its hierarchs abandoned the legacy of the civil-rights movement. Twice in the 80s, Jesse Jackson offered the Party a populist "Rainbow Coalition", with himself as its chieftain. But Jackson was deemed (politely speaking) "unelectable" - as opposed to Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, of whom history, already, remembers nothing. Small wonder, then, that Bulworth informs a South Central congregation that his Party "pretty much forgot" about blacks.

Yet Beatty shows Bulworth to be redeemed by a dose of black urban culture, embodied in Halle Berry's exquisite Nina. He becomes a connoisseur of chicken wings, Philly blunts, and "the nappy dug-out", and delivers his polemics in tortuous rap. All of this might be risible, were it not for a flabbergasting scene where Bulworth, alone at last with Nina, muses over the spirit of Huey Newton, and the absence of "black leaders". Just as we fear Warren is about to offer a personal reminiscence, Nina cuts in to inform him that her mother was a Panther; that the 'leaders' Bulworth frets about were mostly rubbed out by Nixon's damnable Cointelpro operation; and that the malaise of Black America stems from the decline of post-war manufacturing, which provided such vigorous foot-soldiers for civil rights. Dispute that last thesis if you wish, but only John Sayles has served up such brazen dialectical materialism in recent American cinema.

If one wished to cavil: Beatty's highly accomplished visual triumvirate (cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, designer Dean Tavoularis, costumer Milena Canonero) may have given the film too polished a veneer. Throughout, there's a fairly central-casting conception of 'coloured folk'. At one point, Bulworth humiliates a racist LAPD cop, which resembles nothing so much as Beatty collecting a debt on behalf of Rodney King. And Bulworth's heroics are accompanied by too many shots of 'I-like-what-the-man-says' expressions on beaming black faces. Nevertheless, Beatty has once again taken handsome advantage of his Hollywood clout to make a film of dissenting intelligence. He leaves us with a turn from playwright Amiri Baraka, as a panhandler with a gift for muttering ominous oaths. This type of character is already shop-worn from liberal Hollywood pictures such as Grand Canyon. But Baraka's words have resonance: "You gotta be a spirit, Bulworth. You can't be no ghost." This clarion call to political engagement splendidly caps one of the best films to emerge from a Hollywood studio in the 90s.


Warren Beatty
Pieter Jan Brugge
Warren Beatty
Jeremy Pikser
Warren Beatty
Director of Photography
Vittorio Storaro
Robert C. Jones
Billy Weber
Production Designer
Dean Tavoularis
Music/Music Conductor/ Orchestration
Ennio Morricone
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Production Company
Twentieth Century Fox presents a Warren Beatty film
Executive Producer
Lauren Shuler Donner
Victoria Thomas
Frank Capra III
Production Associate
Jane Payne
Production Supervisor
Jamie D. Boscardin
Production Co-ordinators
Brigette Lester
Lynne White
Unit Production Manager
John Rusk
Location Managers
Kristan Wagner
Elisa Conant-Coleman
Ned Shapiro
Post-production Supervisor
Rob Yamamoto
Production Consultant
Zelda Barron
Assistant Directors
Frank Capra III
George Bamber
Andrew Bernstein
Michael Moore
Todd Murata
Script Supervisors
Kerry Lyn McKissick
Ellen Evans
Script Co-ordinators
Kathy Riordan
Barbara Schiffman
Victoria Thomas
Jeanne McCarthy
Barbara Harris
Additional Unit Director of Photography
Jack Wallner
Camera/Steadicam Operators
Garrett Brown
Jonathan Brown
Nicola Pecorini
Projected Effects
Bill Hansard
Art Director
William F. O'Brien
Set Designer
Dianne Wager
Set Decorator
Rick Simpson
Costume Designers
Milena Canonero
Eduardo Castro
Costume Supervisor
John Casey
Costume Co-ordinator
Jordanna Fineberg
Key Artist:
Valli O'Reilly
Cyndi Reece-Thorne
Carmé Tenuta
John Blake

Key Hairstylist
Lynda Gurasich
Scarlet Letters
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Designer
Bob Badami
AMIT - Accademia Musicale Italiana
Featured Vocalists
Yvonne Williams
Sue Ann Carwell
Edda Dell'Orso
Amy Stewart
Score Co-ordinator
Enrico De Melis
Music Editor
Bob Badami
Recording Engineer
Fabio Venturi
"Semper fidelis" by John Philip Sousa, performed by The Band of The Grenadier Guards, conducted by Major Rodney Bashford; "It's Rainin'" by Larron Vaughn, performed by God's Property; "Bulworth Breakdown" by Jay Bulworth [Warren Beatty], Jeremy Pikser, Gerald Baillergeau, Victor Merritt, performed by Jay Bulworth, Big Yams & Vino; "Holiday/12 Scanner" by Erin Johnson, Robert McDowell, Dwayne Searcy, William E. Butler, Jerry Butler, performed by Witchdoctor, contains an interpolation of "I Stand Accused" by William E. Butler, Jerry Butler; "Zoom" by Dr Dré, LL Cool J, Glove & Richard Vick, performed by Dr Dré & LL Cool J; "Run" by Darryl Hill, Robert Diggs Jr, performed by Cappadonna; "Ghetto Supastar" by Pras Michel, Wyclef Jean, R. Jones, Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb, performed by Pras Michel, featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard & introducing MYA, containing an interpolation of "Islands in the Stream" by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb; "Bitches Are Hustlers Too" by Jamecia 'Mimi' Ward, Denise 'Nece' Saulsberry, Owen Ratliff, B. Major, performed by D-Fyne; "Maniac in the Brainiac" by D. Rolison, Ice Cube, Binky, performed by Mack 10 & Ice Cube; "Eve of Destruction" by E. Jeffers, Melvin Bradford, L. Hayward, M. McQueen Jr, B. Williams Jr, performed by Eve, contains an interpolation of "Long as There Is You (I Got Love)" by L. Hayward, M. McQueen Jr, B. Williams Jr; "Joints & Jam" by Paul Poli, William Adams, Allan Pineda, Jaime Gomez, Greg Phillinganes, Barry Gibb, performed by Black Eyed Peas, contains a sample of "Love Till the End of Time" by Greg Phillinganes, also contains an interpolation
of "Grease" by Barry Gibb; "Freak Out" by T. Gaither, T. Riley, A. Davidson, M. Smith, M. Riley, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, performed by Nutta Butta featuring Anonymous, contains a sample from "Le Freak" by Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers; "Lunatics in the Grass" by Louis Freese, J. Gonzalez, performed by B REAL of Cypress Hill; "The Chase" by Robert Diggs, performed by RZA; "Bounce to Da Beat" by Luther Campbell, J. McGowan, Van Bryan, performed by Luke; "Firm Biz" by L. Lewis, N. Jones, A. Cruz, Inga Marchand, A. McGrier, T. Brockert, performed by Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ featuring Dawn Robinson, contains an interpolation of "Square Biz" by A. McGrier, T. Brockert; "Hot Booty" by/performed by Esham; "Washington Post" by John Philip Sousa, performed by The Philip Jones Ensemble; "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" by Franz Joseph Haydn; "Joyful Joyful" by Ludwig van Beethoven; "Kill Em Live" by Chuck D, Gary G-Wiz, performed by Public Enemy; "Church Organ" by Henrik Nielsen; "100 Miles and Running" by Lamont Dozier, Edward Holland Jr., Brian Holland, Eugene Wright, A. Young, L. Patterson, G. Hutchinson, Herbie Hancock, P. Jackson, Melody Raglin, performed by NWA; "U Turn" by/performed by Chris Haynes; "Insane in the Brain" by Louis Freese, Senen Reyes, Larry Muggerud, performed by Cypress Hill; "Sheik of Araby" by Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler, Ted Snyder, parody lyrics by Jay Bulworth [Warren Beatty]; "Hay" by Wonoosas Martin, Marrico King, Corey J. Johnson, Ralph Leverston, Terrell Harris, George Clinton Jr, Grace Cook, performed by Crucial Conflict, contains a sample of "I'll Stay" by George Clinton Jr, Grace Cook; "Wrong Nigga to F*** Wit" by O'Shea Jackson, Anthony Wheaton, performed by Ice Cube; "The Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa; "Ultra Design (Alternative)" by Wolfgang Stadele; "Chiquita Banana" by William Wirges, Leonard MacKenzie, Garth Montgomery, parody lyrics by Jay Bulworth [Warren Beatty]; "How Come" by Wyclef Jean, Ndiaga N'Dour, G. Williams, Jerry Duplessis, performed by Youssou N'Dour and Canibus; "How Deep Can You Go" by Tony Randle; "Bulworth (They Talk About It While We Live It)" by Larry Muggerud, C. Miller, C. Parker, A. Johnson, C. Smith, performed by KAM, Method Man, Prodigy, KRS-One
Sound Mixers
Thomas Causey
Additional Unit:
Hank Garfield
Re-recording Mixers
Andy Nelson
Anna Behlmer
Jim Bolt
Rick Hart
Andy D'Addario
Supervising Sound Editors
Mark P. Stoeckinger
Paul Timothy Carden
Dialogue Editors
Mark Gordon
Dan Rich
Sound Effects Editors
Dino DiMuro
Randy Kelley
Philip A. Hess
Gary Mundheim
Lou Kleinman
Gail Clark Burch
Laura Graham
Kerry D. Williams
Katherine Harper
Jimmy Moriana
Ellen Heuer
Craig S. Jaeger
Patrick Foley
Stunt Co-ordinators
Gary Hymes
Daniel W. Barringer
A.J. Nay
Film Extracts
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
5 Fingers (1952)
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
Planet of the Apes (1967)
Warren Beatty
Jay Bulworth
Halle Berry
Don Cheadle
Oliver Platt
Dennis Murphy
Paul Sorvino
Graham Crockett
Jack Warden
Eddie Davers
Isaiah Washington
Kimberly Deauna Adams
Vinny Argiro
debate director
Sean Astin
Kirk Baltz
debate producer
Ernie Banks
Amiri Baraka
Christine Baranski
Constance Bulworth
Adilah Barnes
Mrs Brown
Graham Beckel
man with dark glasses
Brandon N. Bowlin
bouncer 2
Mongo Brownlee
henchman 3
Thomas Jefferson Byrd
Uncle Rafeeq
J. Kenneth Campbell
Scott Michael Campbell
head valet
Jann Carl
Kerry Catanese
video reporter 4
Dave Allen Clark
Terry Cooley
henchman 2
Kevin Cooney
Reverend Wilberforce
Christopher Curry
Stanley DeSantis
Manny Liebowitz
Mike 'Big Mike' Duncan
Nora Dunn
Missy Berliner
Jerry Dunphy

Dartanyan Edmonds
man with Blunt
Edward J. Etherson
Mr Sasser
V.J. Foster
Leon Curtis Frierson
George Furth
older man
Xiomara Cuevas Galindo
video reporter 2
Robin Gammell
Life Garland
Darnell's Bud
Jackie Gayle
Jim Haynie
Bill Stone
Randee Heller
Mrs Tannenbaum
Barry Shabaka Henley
man at Frankie's
James Hill
Kene Holliday
man in church 1
Brian Hooks
Marcus Garvey
Terri Hoyos
reporter 3
Myra J
woman in church 1
Mario Jackson
Ariyan Johnson
Jedda Jones
woman in church 2
Michael Kaufman
reporter 1
James Keane
American Politics director
Tom Kelly
reporter 5
Larry King
Deborah Lacey
reporter 2
Mimi Lieber
Mrs Liebowitz
Elizabeth Lindsey
American Politics host
Joshua Malina
Bill Feldman
Larry Mark
bouncer 3
Helen Martin
Momma Doll
Armelia McQueen
Laurie Metcalf
Michael Milhoan
cop 1
Jamal Mixon
Jerod Mixon
little gangstas
Debra Monk
Deborah Moore
Michele Morgan
Patrick Morgan
studio employee
Juli Mortz
Larry King's assistant
Scott Mosenson
video cameraman
Paul Motley
janitor in senate office

Chris Mulkey
cop 2
Lou Myers
Uncle Tyrone
Shawna Nagler
technical director
Jonathan Roger Neal
little gangsta
Ron Ostrow
staff member
Norman Parker
Irwin Tannenbaum
James Pickens Jr
Uncle David
Wendell Pierce
Kenneth Randle
Tony Tomas Randle
Arthur Reggie III
little gangstas
Adrian Ricard
Aunt Alice
Ava Rivera
video reporter 3
Richard Sarafian
Robert Scheer
Sam Shamshak
fundraiser guest
Sarah Silverman
2nd American Politics assistant
Brooke Skulski
Bee-Be Smith
Aunt Harriet
Roberto Soto
Florence Stanley
Quinn Sullivan
fundraiser server
JoAnn D. Thomas
Robin Thomas
reporter in hallway
Sheryl Underwood
woman in Frankie's
Gary H. Walton
bouncer 4
Andrew Warne
video reporter
Lee Weaver
man in church 2
Kenn Whitaker
henchman 1
Jermaine Williams
Paul Robeson
John Witherspoon
Reverend Morris
Sumiko Telljohn
lady at banquet
George Hamilton
John McLaughlin
voice of TV commentator
William Baldwin
Paul Mazursky
20th Century Fox (UK)
9,730 feet
108 minutes 6 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Anamorphic [Technovision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011