Bugsy (1991) Directed by Barry Levinson
Warrenology is a term nicely coined by Peter Biskind for the official and unofficial research on the topic of Warren Beatty. I have sneakily become a kind of Warrenologist over the past two years, greatly due to his amazing film Reds (1981) (which we are yet to review here). Warren has a few annoying traits; he's a babe magnet (you name her, he's had her), he's handsome, intelligent, opinionated, controlling, and he has been an influential revolutionary in Hollywood. In my opinion Warren Beatty epitomizes the idea of success, as it has been polished over the last 50 years.
I was happy to watch Bugsy, as I am reading Biskind's Star: The Life & Wild Times of Warren Beatty (2010). Having never see it before, I only knew that this was the film on which Warren met his wife Annette Bening. It is eternally fascinating to imagine what happened in 1991 on the Bugsy set. What changed for the world-known lover-of-all-women, when he decided to devote himself to Annette and only Annette? I guess that's not going to be known, but there is a romantic idea of the power of love and the possibility of change in the story of Warren B. I'm also wondering why it upset everybody so much to know that Warren was having a good time with many lovers? Were we worried for his possible loneliness, or mental health, or were we just jealous?
Anyhow, Bugsy is not a smooth film. Annette Bening is excellent, but Beatty appears to be sleepwalking and when he wakes up he is playing himself. The film is long and split into two sections somehow: a satirical beginning and a sad ending. Although the film is based on a true story, it is so stylized that it is difficult to relate to emotionally. I urge you to watch Shampoo and Reds, and leave Bugsy on the shelf.
I have imagined that my friends and peers have a term they use to refer to me when I'm not in their presence, other than my common name Nick or Triani. I have a good friend that calls me Tree and others refer to me as Traina (my family name). My close family call me Nicky. But is there a name they use behind my back? A name that does not flatter, but is a slur, as is the case of Ben Siegel, who was more commonly known as Bugsy (aligning him to an insect).
Siegel started Las Vegas as we know it today and hated his pet name Bugsy. This film traces the gangster Siegel's vision of building a casino empire in the desert with mob money, and how the initial failure of the venture led to his demise. Warren Beatty plays Bugsy, in what seems one of the most vain screen turns in history. Yes, the womanizing, short tempered and charming gangster could be Beatty's alter-ego and must be the one reason why Beatty took on the picture. But this film is a mess. It's a parody (though I think not intentionally) of every gangster and noir movie you've ever seen. It wastes actors like Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, Joe Mantegna and Harvey Keitel in poorly scripted roles. This picture is all about Beatty, the actor and the man.
Levinson makes things look pretty, but his flat pacing combined with cliched, jumbled noir concepts only adds to the general sense of disaster. Warren scored a whammy by ending up married to leading lady Annette Bening. Bening still shows her class amongst the drivel, she's that good. But we don't feel much for Beatty as Bugsy, the only emotional tug comes from Ennio Morricone's excellent recurring theme. Beatty pulls out all the acting stops, from emotional ticks to over the top expressions of anger. But this is shallow, the picture dies under it's own portentous ambitions. After watching Bugsy, one is left with the impression of an aging icon raging at his own shadow. As compensation, at least Warren got the girl in the end.