Watching Bulworth in 2017 is Different Than Watching it in 1998…Probably

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Bulworth came out in 1998 when I was finishing up seventh grade and had this huge crush on a girl in my English class that I really wanted to ask out, but never did. What does that have to do with Bulworth? Not much of anything other than, it’s probably the reason I didn’t see it. I was more interested in this girl than politics at the time. And that was the way it went for a while, because I assumed that Bulworth was a political film and not a dark comedy.

I chose this as my first shame because it has often been referenced over the last year in relation to now-President Trump and the 2016 Election. It’s a valid comparison, a candidate that speaks his mind, says what he actually thinks, and in the end, wins people over. The film in retrospect, leaves me with an alarming take on President Trump making it perhaps a more noteworthy film from this point on.

In the film, Warren Beatty does a fantastic job of playing Senator Jay Bulworth who has reached the end of his limits. His campaign is seemingly dead in the water, he’s compromised his views and himself to stay in politics as long as he has. His marriage has been a fraud for years. He’s in a deep depression. When we join him, he has decided to commit suicide by hiring someone to assassinate him. The only problem is that he doesn’t know where or when it’ll happen, but that it will be sometime that weekend.

When he gets off a plan in California, he’s drunk (presumably in preparation to accept his fate), but now his natural survival instinct has kicked in and he’s running scared. He goes to a campaign stop at a church in an African-American community and begins to freely speak his mind. When it’s over, he realizes how good it felt to stop being a politician and continues a weekend of speaking his mind while continuing to avoid the assassin.

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The film goes from there and there’s no reason to go through it, but I recap all that to make this point: If Senator Jay Bulworth starts to speak his mind and not play into politics, because he has nothing to lose knowing he’ll be dead soon, then did Trump not play the political game in 2016 because he had nothing to lose? A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Bulworth wasn’t revolutionary in filmmaking – it feels like a movie made in 1998. It was well-made. There was an almost farcical element to the assassination avoidance storyline and plenty of Warren Beatty rapping. Halle Berry gives a nice performance here as well as many of the great actors scattered throughout do. Bulworth didn’t shatter politics in any radical ways – while it has been reportedly reference by President Obama, I would argue The West Wing had a bigger impact on future politicos in America. Bulworth does explore issues of race, but it didn’t do much for that either. It’s a good movie, but there’s nothing that propels it into a great movie. Not yet at least.

In his book, But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman presents the idea that what is considered noteworthy or culturally important in the future is based on what the future values more so than what was happening at the time of publication. The 2016 Election will probably be the election where politics changed. President Trump gained a lot of supporters by not playing the political game and sounded different than everyone else out there. It’s hard to know for sure, but I imagine this will have an impact on how future candidates run for office. If that’s the case, then I can also imagine a future where Bulworth is of greater note than it is now by the general populace.

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