An odd sub-genre it may be, but the “politician with nothing to lose” and the many avenues of opportunity found in such films is an engaging and surprisingly well-rounded one. What could be a platform for one set of views or a real political statement is shirked in the face of character studies, and how power corrupts those that desire it or come across it without trying. The Candidate is the best offering of such an idea, the unlikely outsider heading to the big leagues without knowing it. Bulworth, the Warren Beatty-directed political comedy-drama hybrid attempts much the same, but with stark, differing results that lead not to self-congratulatory messages, but manic, hip-hop horrors and crazed, fascinating exchanges.
One such change is that Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty) is a suicidal mess. His lack of care or concern for his office and the stagnant boredom that comes with it pushes him over the edge. Assigning a hefty warrant for his death, Bulworth follows the titular politician running a campaign where he simply has nothing to lose. Another political film for the ever-growing pile of thought that, if politicians were pushed to run on their genuine beliefs rather than that of a party, they would trip their way into office as a plucky underdog. Shedding his clean-cut, family image, Bulworth devolves from slogan-peddling politician to manic, hip-hop leader, parading through the final years of the 20th century with no care or concern for his own wellbeing.
Somehow dragging Jack Warden and Paul Sorvino into supporting roles, Bulworth throws political jargon thick and fast at its audience in a genuine effort to confuse and enrage. It works amazingly well, Beatty is incredible as the eponymous senator, who appears to be in the midst of a complete and total breakdown. Does he fight against the system because he has a message to give? No, that much is explained at the end. The man is rushing through a complete and genuine breakdown, but it’s this breakdown that turns him, briefly, into an honourable person wanting to cut through the political jargon and unseen loyalties that linger behind the scenes and stop real justice from making its way into law.
Bulworth may present a thick and fast style of comedy, but its understanding and even adaptation of political problems that still plague the American system today is surprisingly well handled and engaging. Beatty does well as the jack of all trades, directing, starring, producing and writing an exceptional narrative that runs out of steam just before it reaches the finish line. Whoever is surrounding a man of power, no matter their politics, race or religion, is only as good as the ideas they possess. The man at the centre of it all is an empty husk waiting for ideas to be poured into him. Such is the political system, whatever appears to be popular will make its way into the mainstream, to shake the hand of those influential friends and to garner publicity and public funding in any way they can. Bulworth pulls the curtain back with a bold but fumbled criticism of how politicians just don’t care.