Benjamin “Don’t-Call-Me-Bugsy” Siegel was notorious for being one of the more profitable and powerful gangsters of his time. However, no matter how shady dealings he got involved with, no matter how many women he slept with, no matter how many people he killed, and no matter how much money he was able to gain, he still wanted to settle for a normal life, where he’d be able to come home to a loving, relaxing home where his kids, his wife, and their many nannies would be around, all having a great time. But it was a lot easier said then done, because of who Bugsy got in bed with – both literally and figuratively. On one hand, Bugsy was in business with the likes of Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), two notorious figures in the mob world, and on the other hand, had a lady that he could not stop falling head-over-heels for in Virginia (Annette Bening). Eventually though, Bugsy decides that he wants to open up a casino in Las Vegas, but because of the mess that is his personal life, it starts to leak into his professional one, which ends up impacting his life and putting his name in the history books.
Ever since Goodfellas came around and hit the big screens, the gangster film sub genre shook up quite a bit. No longer did we have these slow-burning, dramatic stories about gangsters’ plight and emotional problems that they constantly have to get through. Now, the stories were quick-as-a-button, fast, and always compelling, even if the characters themselves weren’t the most morally responsible people around. That’s not to say that in the time from the Godfather, to 1990, that there weren’t any solid gangster flicks being produced – it’s just that most of them seemed to be rolling the same way, without any one’s in particular identity being singled-out from the rest of the group.
Bugsy is, despite coming out nearly a year after Goodfellas, feels like that same step back.
Which, I guess, is sort of the point. Director Barry Levinson and writer James Toback seem to want to adapt Bugsy Siegel’s story in the same vein as a film would have been made back in the 1920’s. That is to say, everything looks great, sounds great, and feels great, but really, at the center of it all, isn’t all that much to really get involved with. It’s as if Levinson and Toback set out to make a party-of-a-flick and just like an actual party, when the alcohol dries up, the band ceases, and everybody leaves to get on with their real lives, there’s nothing really worth holding onto other than the good time everyone just had.
Bugsy, the movie, feels like the party ended awhile back and now we have some dude moping around and whining about he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because, well, he’s a gangster. However, he’s not just any gangster; he’s the violent one who goes around, shooting and killing people for supposedly robbing him, in front of dozens of others. And this isn’t a problem; that Bugsy is a bad guy who goes around, making shady dealings with all the more shady people, killing whoever he needs to kill, screwing whatever dames he sees fit, and earning as much money as humanly possible, makes the film something of an enjoyable watch.
But the fact that the movie tries to make Bugsy out as some sort of sympathetic figure, doesn’t really work. Not because it’s a disservice to this character in the first place, but because it never feels right or genuine. It’s as if Levinson and Toback were so entranced with the legend of Busgy, that they forgot that maybe all of those people he killed, probably didn’t always deserve it. Still though, we hardly ever see the movie trying to make an actual flawed human being out of Bugsy – he’s still just a dude who makes a lot of money, cheats on his wife, and kills whoever gets in his way of more money.
You know, what we always want with our nice guys.
This is all to say that because Bugsy himself is so unlikable and morally reprehensible, no matter how hard he tries to go “legit”, makes the movie feel like a bit of a slog. We get countless scenes where Bugsy seems to be doing certain things that only benefit himself and honestly, it’s hard to ever care; though we know how the story ends, there’s still no tension or anticipation in how he makes these deals come to fruition. We’re just sitting around in our underwear and Cheetos-covered t-shirts, watching as some handsome ladies-man make more money than we can ever dream of.
Is it ever fun to watch? No.
Should it be? Well, as Scorsese showed us, it sure as hell can be.
And even despite the cast’s many attempts, Bugsy never materializes to being much other than just a biopic with limited heart and humanity. Warren Beatty fits perfectly as Bugsy, but also seems like he’s doing the same kind of role he’s inhabited before, except this time, just as a notorious figure in mob history. Annette Bening seems to be having fun as Virginia, Bugsy’s lover, and actually steals a few scenes away from the rest of the dudes around her. It’s probably no surprise that Beatty and Bening share wonderful chemistry here, but really, they’re what saves this movie; you believe every second that they have together. Whether it’s fighting, banging, loving, and/or talking, you believe that these two would fine one another, fall in love and try to make ends meet for the rest of their days together.
Though I think Bening and Beatty’s real life love story will have a better ending than it does here.
Consensus: Despite it looking, sounding and featuring pretty people, Bugsy never makes a strong enough case for giving its subject a two-hour-long biopic with the heart and compassion of a rock.
5.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Movpins