Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.
Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.
You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.
It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.
Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.
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