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USA 1991
Directed by
Barry Levinson
135 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Bugsy is a top drawer tongue-in-cheek take on epic gangster film stylistics lain down by films like The Godfather (1972) and Once Upon A Time In America  (1984) and aside from Barry Levinson's skilful helming benefits from James Toback’s fine script, superb production values (it won Oscars for Art Direction, Set Direction and Costume Design), an understated Ennio Morricone score and excellent performances from the entire cast

Warren Beatty plays Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a ladies' man and a real life celebrity  hoodlum of the 1940s who, according to this version of the story, came up with the idea of Las Vegas. Levinson’s treatment of it  is in the best tradition of Hollywood’s romanticisation of mobsters and takes an almost jocose attitude to Bugsy’s sociopathic behavior, the accent being on him as the classic American dreamer and entrepreneur rather than his violent and murderous ways which are largely swept under the carpet. But hey, this film has only a bare bones connection with history. Despite its subject-matter for the most part it's an old-fashioned romance complete with a Casablanca-like ending with its tear-stained farewell at the airport. Indeed Levinson's clever stylistic quotations from '40s Hollywood crime movies are one of the delights of the film.

Beatty, who also co-produced, is effective centre-stage (although he looks like he’s had too much cosmetic surgery) endowing Bugsy with a winning charm that endears him to us despite his heinous acts, whilst Annette Bening matches him blow for blow as the love of his life (they would turn their screen romance into the real thing and marry the following year). Strong support also comes from the likes of Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky, Harvey Keitel as Mickey Cohen (dodgy make-up notwithstanding) and Elliott Gould as Bugsy's dim-witted friend, all who emerge as three dimensional figures.

Although the film lose traction and feels a little long in its latter stages (there is a 149m extended version), Bugsy is one of the better modern-day Hollywood gangster films.




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