Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beatty and Benning, Rest of Cast Excellent in 'Bugsy'

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was one of the most notorious and ruthless killers of the 1940s. He killed and womanized. He was also a Las Vegas pioneer. He built what is now the multi-billion dollar Flamingo Hotel and Casino, one of the first of many that became the gambling mecca. Siegel, in essence, took a desert sand trap and turned it into what we know today as Las Vegas. Enter Warren Beatty. Beatty was, himself, a notorious Hollywood playboy. That is, until he met future wife Annette Bening (his co-star in this film, who played Virginia Hill, the love interest of Siegel). So in that sense, these two men, subject and actor, are similar. They couldn't have picked a better person to play Bugsy in Barry Levinson's violent 1991 bio-pic.

Beatty plays the titular role. He makes a splash upon arriving in Los Angeles from New York on "business". Along with his crisp suits and volitile temper, he soon purchases a home, and meets his match in Virginia Hill, a very glamorous (in her own mind) and perhaps, lascivious actress, played by Annette Bening. While his other life (a wife and two daughters) awaits him back in New York, Siegel becomes wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He kills or hurts everyone who dares to cross him. When a trip to the Nevada desert and a run down casino with Hill gives him an idea, a worldwide phenomenon is soon born. With the help of fellow mobster Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) he acquires funds from the so called mob "kingpin" Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), and the other crime family bosses. Costs begin to spiral out of control. Siegel sells his share, plus most of his possessions, in order to pay for these costs. Then, it's discovered that somebody has embezzled millions of dollars. What happens next, as it's said, is history.

The entire cast in this film is what makes it great. This is, as they say, a "star-studded" film, in more ways than one. Along with Beatty and Bening, Harvey Kietel, Ben Kingsley, Joe Mantegna and Elliot Gould, among others, round out the supporting cast of the Hollywood elite and mobsters. Films about the film industry are always intriguing because they may shed light on the inner workings of the industry, or the actors in it. For example, George Raft (Mantegna's character) was an A-List Hollywood actor in the 1930s and 40s. He later became famous for his association with Siegel. Virgina Hill also became famous for her infatuation with the mobster.

Beatty captured the eccentricities of Siegel eeriely well. Whether or not this was a trait of Bugsy's, I don't know, but Beatty makes him very eloquent and well spoken. Over and over in the film, he repeats a chant, perhaps a mantra, that keeps his tongue quick and relaxed. It goes, "Twenty dwarfs took turns doing hand stands on the carpet." It may sound benign, but said over and over, with Beatty steely eyed intensity, it becomes spine tingling.

It's a dark, eerie and intense film. But it's very captivating. Both the subjects and actors are excellent.

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