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When he co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in the audacious 1998 political satire Bulworth, Warren Beatty probably had no idea that the closest present-day equivalent to his title character would be … Donald Trump.
And yet, as horrified by the thought as Beatty would be, the parallels are obvious. His character, Jay Billington Bulworth, a liberal Democratic senator from California, suddenly goes off the deep end and begins delivering rabidly politically incorrect speeches in which he tells the naked truth to his constituents for the first time.
That, in essence, is the Trump playbook. Although he hasn’t been a career politician, Trump sells himself as politically incorrect and incorruptible, not beholden to special interests, corporate donors or even the very political party with which he’s affiliated. And while Bulworth incongruously and hilariously rapped to appeal to socially and financially oppressed African-Africans, Trump speaks in the coarse, angry language of the “poorly educated” (the group he professes to love) white males who are among his most ardent supporters.
“We stand at the doorstep of a new millennium,” was Bulworth’s campaign mantra, one so well-worn that even he got tired of repeating it. Trump’s, of course, is “Make America great again,” and unlike Bulworth, he clearly relishes its recitation, along with his familiar litany of pandering cliches about building a wall, etc.
The difference, of course, is that Bulworth was daring to finally be himself in defiance of political standards, while Trump is doing exactly the opposite in pursuit of the same goal. He’s actually admitted that he’s playing a character, and he’s reversed many of his previously expressed positions to appeal to the Republican base (although, to be fair, he’s also gone against their grain in numerous ways). “Old liberal wine trying to pour itself into a new conservative bottle,” sniped one of Bulworth’s enemies. The same could well be said of The Donald.
Meanwhile, it’s hard not to wish that Hillary Clinton would watch, or rewatch, the film. She’s like Bulworth at its beginning, delivering the same canned bromides, over and over again, that she thinks the people want to hear, and they can sense her calculation. It’s about time she discovered her inner rapper.
This story first appeared in the June 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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