Viking Night: Bulworth
By Bruce Hall
March 8, 2016
Political satire is an interesting way to gauge the social climate of almost any age. For example, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it reflected fear and paranoia about the communist spies that are probably behind you RIGHT NOW. In the 1970s, cynicism really became mainstream, with Uncle Sam and his fat cat corporate pals becoming public enemy number one. The ‘80s saw us retconning the Vietnam War and finally taking care of that communist problem in Rocky IV (which holds up a lot better when you view it as self-parody). So what can we learn from the ‘90s, when Americans evidently came to view the very idea of government itself as the joke?
That same cynicism suggests an America that might be home to an entitled, narcissistic consumer culture that just expects the government to ensure things are always prosperous. Maybe we’re a socially disengaged people who concern ourselves with politics only during election years, and with religion on Christmas and Easter, or when two gay people want to get married. Are we an incurious bunch of materialistic apes who can’t relate to anything that isn’t presented to us as a product or a brand?
In other words - if you happen to have a problem with the government - maybe we’ve got the one we deserve. Isn’t a representative government filled with self-absorbed opportunists just a natural extension of the society that put them there? Every now and then, someone makes a film that appears to be asking this question. This time it’s Warren Beatty, who is no stranger to movies, politics, or movies ABOUT politics.
Oh, are you not familiar with Warren Beatty?
He’s what would happen if George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio had a son, and then sent that son back to the 20th Century to make critically acclaimed films, become politically active and also have incredible amounts of sex with other celebrities. Beatty wrote, starred in and directed Bulworth, using perhaps the last of his once considerable clout on one of the most bizarrely self-indulgent films I’ve ever seen that was not made by Eli Roth. Beatty essentially had a free pass to make almost any movie he wanted, and this is what he came up with. And it’s all based on what could have been a really interesting idea.
Pretend you’re an incumbent Democratic senator from California, it’s just a few days before the election, and your name is Jay Bulworth (Beatty). You’re one of those old-timey Kennedy democrats that nobody listens to anymore, thanks to that whole “crushing Federal debt” thing. Politics has passed you by, and now you’re the guy they send when someone needs a ribbon cut, or the ball thrown at a minor league game. They know you look good with giant scissors, and you can be counted on not to one hop the first pitch of the season. It’s good work if you can get it, but to an old school idealist like Bulworth, it’s career suicide.