Bugsy is easily one of the most handsome pictures of the 90s, but on a second viewing it's a little less impressive than it seemed at the time. Siegel's life and crimes were too all-encompassing for anything less than a mini-series to do justice to it, but even so it's curious that for a film concentrating on his time in Hollywood and his fatal dream of turning Las Vegas into a gangster's paradise avoids his attempts to squeeze the studios dry by offering a union-fixing protection racket, one of the great untold Hollywood stories of the 40s. But what it does do it does well, offering centerstage to its charismatic, contradictory, impulsive and sporadically violent anti-hero and his equally contradictory lover. The violence isn't glossed over (indeed, Siegel's humiliation of one underling acts as a turn-on for the far from saintly dame), although Warren Beatty doesn't always quite convince when he's required to be pathologically sadistic.
The supporting cast are pretty impressive, especially Ben Kingsley before he disappeared up his own backside post-knighthood and Elliot Gould as a very simple stoolie, but it's surprising that Harvey Keitel was singled out for an Oscar nomination for his good but unremarkable work as Mickey Cohen. Still, it did result one of the best pre-Oscar interviews of all time: when asked what he'd do with his Oscar if he won, he casually replied that he'd smash it over Edward James Olmos' head (Keitel's wife had just left him for Olmos at the time). Maybe Keitel should've played Bugsy himself...
The only extra on Columbia's original DVD release of the theatrical version is the theatrical trailer.
Bugsy is directed by Barry Levinson and written by James Toback. It stars Warren Beatty, Annette Benning, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould and Joe Mantegna. Music is by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Allen Daviau. Film is a biography adaptation of Benjamin Bugsy Siegel, a notorious American mobster who rose to prominence in the 30s and 40s.
Barry Levinson's epic film didn't turn out to be the mobster film many had hoped for. There was great anticipation that this would be Levinson's Goodfellas. What ultimately came to pass was a film of epic scope and detail, alive not with violence and mobster edginess, but of romanticism, of visionary peccadilloes and of folly. This is both a blessing and a curse, for Levinson seems to be caught in two minds between being respectful to his main characterisation, or unleashing the beast as we know it.
Story concerns itself with Siegel being sent to tidy up West Coast operations, from where he would fall in love with starlet Virginia Hill and become one of the most prominent names in Hollywood of the 40s. Whilst the pic has moments where Siegel seethes and teeters on the edge of murderous rage, much of the history here is scratchy to say the least, where again Levinson and Toback ignore just what a nasty piece of work Siegel was in real life, and instead put dreamy ideals and hot to trot passions in instead.
It's all perfectly mounted, this is very good film making, it just always seems to be on the periphery of making a telling contribution to the Siegel legacy on film. Beatty is dandy and ever watchable, but this is not a Bugsy Siegel we can identify with, rendering an air of falseness to the story telling. The support cast are strong, though Mantegna as George Raft is miscast, but the likes of Kingsley and Gould make telling contributions with only morsels to feed off of from the screenwriter.
In its longest form it runs at two and half hours, and it's testament to the film maker's craft that it always maintains interest. Yet the various splinters trying to dovetail into one never quite make it and that's a shame. 6.5/10
Why the 18 rating? It's a pretty tame love story as far I'm concerned and not a true 'gangster' film at all. I think only three people are killed in this film including the obvious one at the end. One guy is killed off-camera if I remember right. They called him 'Bugsy' because he was a vicious psychopath - bugs in the head. Okay, I understand that audiences have to be on the side of the main character, plus he does lose his rag in the film a few times, but this film doesn't rank alongside 'Goodfellas', 'Scarface', 'The Godfather' et al, because the bottom line is that it's a romance rather than thriller. Expecting something along the line of the films mentioned above I was left disappointed.
...This film from 1991 was Oscar nominated, but only came away with one for costume- which was dominated by the slightly over-rated Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps this was looked over as the definitive gangster film had been made a few years previously: Scorsese's Goodfellas. Having said that, this precedes Scorsese's own Las Vegas mob film, Casino- whichever way you look at it, there is always a fresh spin on the mob: and this is one (Road to Perdition is, on the other hand, not). As with many biopics, and the fact the charismatic Beatty is involved, Siegel comes across as a slightly romantic psychopath- this generally works (to see how it doesn't, take a look at the risible turn by Dustin Hoffmann as a gangster in Billy Bathgate). THe screenplay by James Toback (Black&White, Fingers, Harvard Man, Two Girls&a Guy) is excellent; as is the classy score by veteran Ennio Morricone- which ranks with his best work of the 1990's alongside the score on Lolita. The supporting cast is also a joy- brilliant turns from Ben Kingsley, Annette Benning, Elliot Gould, Joe Mantegna, Harvey Keitel & Bebe Neuwirth. For anyone who appreciates the dark mob undertones of James Ellroy's fiction (E.g. The Cold Six Thousand)or Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America- there is much to enjoy here. This is everything that The Godfather Part III was not. One of the classic gangster films of recent years, to rank alongside Casino, Sonatine, Donnie Brasco, Carlito's Way , Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai & Fallen Angels.
I'm not overly keen on Warren Beatty but he excels in this film of how Bugsy came up with the idea of opening Las Vegas up to the mob for gambling and all that's associated with it.I was engrossed from the beginning to end and,for me,it's one of the most memorable films i've ever seen.Highly recommended.