Decision 2016! Two Cents Raps About BULWORTH


Two Cents
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

There’s never been a Hollywood figure quite like Warren Beatty.

Despite his matinee-idol looks, Beatty made his movie star bones in the incredibly controversial, ground-breakingly violent, French New Wave-inspired Bonnie & Clyde.

Rather than striking while the iron was hot after changing cinema forever, Beatty disappeared for three years. And that’s pretty much been the story of his career, with monumental cultural smashes followed by long periods of almost-total absence. It was not uncommon for Beatty to take multi-year gaps between every film appearance, a trend that has only grown more pronounced as the years have passed.

Beatty’s latest, Rules Don’t Apply, opens this week, his first foray to the big screen since 2001’s mega-bomb Town & Country (Fun Fact: You absolutely have never heard of this movie before), and we thought we would take the opportunity to look back on Beatty’s last film as director, 1998’s political satire Bulworth.

Jay Bulworth (Beatty) is a Democratic Senator from California up for re-election. Whatever ideals or ideas had once driven him to seek office, they’ve been steadily beaten out of his system by the push-and-pull of DC politics. The man we meet at the start of the film is a husk, weeping as he watches the same shit commercial with the same shit slogan play out over and over again.

Bulworth has been driven so low, he takes out a massive life insurance policy on himself and hires a hitman to end it all before the end of the weekend. With nothing to live for and no life to look forward to, Bulworth starts living life to the fullest and “telling it like it is” on the campaign trail. He also becomes heavily interested in this fabulous new invention: Rap.

Featuring supporting turns by Oliver Platt and Scandal’s Joshua Malina as political operatives, Sean Astin as a camera guy, and several talented black people as criminals, Bulworth has remained short-hand for politicians when they talk about their want to just cut loose from the rigmarole and really let it rip.

In light of our recent election madness, does Bulworth‘s satire still have some bite? Find out below!

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

After a somewhat grueling month of political movies when we’ve suddenly become tired of politics, we decided to pull out something purely for the fun of it. Friend of Cinapse Rockie Juarez has always actively championed the outrageous hockey n’ fightin’ comedy Goon. A sequel directed by Jay Baruchel (who co-wrote the original) is in development, and has in fact just dropped a fresh new red band trailer a couple days ago. There’s no better time than now to catch up on – or enjoy again – this much loved but underseen sports comedy.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

The Team

Justin: I’m J. Charles Harlan and I’m here to say, after this election well all have Hell to pay. We’re gonna pay it in the ghetto… and the suburbs… and the farmlands… and, well you get the point.

This movie felt super fresh for me, despite watching it several times before. In light of the 2016 election, Bulworth’s honesty is so refreshing. His honesty trumps the supposed “telling it like it is” and “speaking his mind” that won the President-elect this election. It’s refreshing. And the guarded and careful articulation of Hillary Clinton this past election turned off to many people that I can’t help but yearn for our own J. Billington to rise up.

I love this movie. Funny, fun, and chock full of potent commentary. Great way to wrap this election cycle. (@thepaintedman)

Brendan: I have no doubt that Warren Beatty had nothing but good intentions when he made this thing, but Bulworth is as condescending and irritating a satire as they get. It’s a movie that tries so hard to comment on racism that it actually goes all the way around and becomes super fucking racist on accident (we call this the Sorkin Special and, wouldn’t you know it, Aaron Sorkin was apparently heavily involved in rewrites).

There are good actors who loan this embarrassment some actual weight. Oliver Platt especially puts the movie on his back and delivers an energetic and fully-realized character, the kind of eager-to-please monster that would fit right in on a Veep or similarly acidic show. Halle, Berry and Don Cheadle are stuck with ridiculous characters, but both work overtime to find something sincere beneath the polemic.

But most damaging to Bulworth is simply the passage of time. Like American Beauty and Fight Club, this film is an artifact of a moment in time when we truly believed that history had come to an end in the 90s and the biggest thing for white dudes to lash out against was their own status as white dudes. In these pre-GWB days, Democrats and Republicans were seen as being interchangeable with easily swapped values, a belief that still maddeningly persists today.

It’s a crock of shit, and the condescension of Bulworth and its ilk is all the more irritating given how pervasive that crock continues to be within our populace. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin:Going into this film, I didn’t have a solid read on what it was about, and now that I’ve seen it I’m only marginally surer. The aspects that clicked best were the ones that drove the plot: our protagonist’s absurd existential nightmare of being so dejected and suicidal as to contract a hit on himself. That’s pitch black humor, and I’m on the same wavelength so far.

But once Bulworth starts commenting on the issues, it’s a weird muddle of messages. Brendan has already identified what felt the most off-putting to me, which was the depiction and attitudes of race. Bulworth’s speech to a black church congregation, ostensibly open and honest, seemed weirdly contemptuous and insulting toward his audience, and things only get muddier from there, especially with all the kooky and embarrassing parts where he “raps”. Badly.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of charm to the whole “politics is bullshit” frankness. And while the message is often muddled, I dug the vibe of shaking off political niceties and speaking from the gut. (@VforVashaw)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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the author

Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he's doing. He'd like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, and his ramblinger ramblings on Tumblr. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.

  • Justin Harlan

    Funny, my read was always that the film being racist itself was fully intentional. As in, I think stereotypes were over the top on purpose and that always felt as it was part of the joke. I can see your read though, really interesting to think on.