A ghost or a spirit?



A ghost or a spirit?

Directed by and starring Warren Beatty
Also starring Halle Berry
Showing in most major cinemas

Review by Jonathan Singer

Fact: Bulworth is a good — a very good — movie.

Fact: It is one you should definitely see.

That's two facts more, according to the political satire Bulworth, than you will get from establishment politicians and the mainstream media presentation of them. It gives us cause not only to laugh at but to think about politics.

Bulworth portrays a Californian Democrat senator, Jay Bulworth (Warren Beatty), who, in the final days of his primary (pre-selection) campaign, is having a nervous breakdown. He hires a hit man to kill him, after making a deal with insurance industry lobbyist Crockett (Paul Sorvino) to bury a bill to regulate the industry in return for life insurance to benefit his daughter.

Impending death brings a sudden (too sudden — this was the only part of the movie that seemed incongruous) transformation. Bulworth tells the truth — in bucket-loads — and is on the move between the homes, hotels and television studios of the big end of town and the life of the black neighbourhoods of south central Los Angeles.

He adopts the rap — not always very well, but at its best when it is politically sharp — and even the hip-hop outfit of the 'hoods. (The score blends rap from a range of artists and classical music.)

Bulworth's minders, headed by Murphy (Oliver Platt), can't figure out what is going on. Moments of bizarre confusion, lucid thought, suspense and lust follow each other at a fast pace.

Wandering through Bulworth, like a Shakespearian narrator, is a homeless man (writer and activist Amiri Baraka), who tells Bulworth not to be a ghost, but to be a spirit, to be alive. This appears to be the underlying aim of the film for Warren Beatty, who co-wrote (with Jeremy Pikser), directed and co-produced it, as well as performing in the title role. (Beatty also did this with Reds, about the US communists and radical journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant.)

Bulworth expresses Beatty's radicalism, which he presents as carried forward from the 1960s. Capitalism — the rule of money, the corporations and the state — are sharply criticised as the obscenity and crime in our lives. Beatty raises socialism as a bogy for capitalism, and he certainly does not mean contemporary social democracy, since he directly connects it to "socialisation" of the insurance industry.

Anti-racism is a vital theme of Bulworth. Since this is a comedy, a fighting program can't be readily presented. But the poverty and police harassment of the black population are portrayed, and their effects on the development of black political leadership are clearly outlined in Nina (Halle Berry), who develops an ambiguous, but increasingly romantic, relationship with Bulworth.

The struggle against racism is a central part of the movement for fundamental social change in the US. However, Bulworth's anti-racism can't cover totally some of its political blind-spots.

The women — Nina and her rapper friends Cheryl (Michele Morgan) and Tanya (Ariyan Johnson) — are the politically active thinkers outside of the political specialists. But women's oppression is not part of Bulworth's critique, nor is workers' exploitation. And the idea that the mass of people might organise to act on their own behalf only appears towards the end of the movie.