Harry Greenberg: He doesn't like that name.
Cab Driver: Everybody calls him that.
Harry Greenberg: Not to his face, they don't.
A great mob story about the Gangster who created Vegas, made in a style that romanticizes this cold-blooded killer.
Warren Beatty is very good as this charismatic gangster. Although Siegel was a murderer with a short temper, he is also shown to be a dreamer and a generally nice person, who falls in love with west coast living.
The movie involves this mob boss coming to California, where he immediately loves the life there, moves into a big mansion, and tries to make it into show business. Siegel eventually gets involves with the two loves of his life, a movie starlet, Virginia Hill played by Annette Bening, and the idea of building a giant, legitimate casino resort setting in the desert city Las Vegas.
Siegel eventually trade's in his marriage for Hill and uses more money than the mob would have possibly wanted on his big casino plan.
During this time we learn of Siegel's ways, I say Siegel and not Bugsy because he would kill anyone who called him that name. We learn of Siegel's desire for great vanity, which includes fixing his hair, his strive for good grammar, and the fixation he has on why the newspapers portray him so harshly.
The film also boasts an impressive supporting cast including Ben Kingsley as fellow mob boss Meyer Lansky, Harvey Keitel, Joe Mantegna, and Elliot Gould in one of his best and saddest roles.
Director Barry Levinson does a great job handling this film, keeping the tone mostly light-hearted, despite some of Siegel's violent rages. It also looks great thanks to the art direction and costume design. And there's a very good score by Ennio Morricone, which is very fitting.
While the story ends in a tragic way from a certain point of view, it still has many humorous moments, and is very entertaining throughout.
The movie has a great supporting cast as well, providing what is needed. It is very stylish and gives a good perspective of how things were/could have been.
Virginia: Do you always talk this much before you do it?
"Bugsy" Siegel: I only talk this much before I kill someone.
Deeply focused on Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel's rise and eventual downfall in organized crime, this film offers no real background development on Siegel or his peers outside of the criminal underworld of the 1940s, and where it could have made up for that with gradual exposition, it tends to continue focusing on crime over genuine nuance, either underdoing or even abandoning certain potentially important dramatic elements to supplement characterization that is already way too thin for its own good, especially within the lead. Siegel is an interesting and extremely well-portrayed role, but outside of showcasing his moments of overt eccentricity, all you can get out of him is that he is a self-centered man of sleaze and crime who could have easily been humanized without being glorified, but ends up being too unlikable to be all that compelling of a lead without Warren Beatty's charisma, as surely as he is focused upon too deeply to begin with. By that, I mean that the supporting roles are underexplored, with the Virginia Hill love interest not even being as evenly used and thoroughly fleshed out as she really should be, thus, a lot of Siegel's peers feel like prominent devices to be picked up and dropped while the storytellers juggle a number of segments and narrative layers which jar about to a convoluted point. There's simply too much going on, and not enough at the same time, because as reasonable as a runtime of around two hours and quarter seems to be, it ends up being achieved through a combination of over-exploring Siegel's criminal business and sleaziness, and underexploring, if not awkwardly rushing through the human dramatics and what have you in order to realize momentum. The film gradually gets messier with its structure, yet it never loses its predictability, because even though this film makes certain errors that other gangster films of its inspiration are usually careful to avoid, it is hopelessly conformist to the structure and subject matter handling of so many other crime dramas of its type, and that reflects the limitations of inspiration in this project. I gripe and complain, but inspiration is pretty prominent through and through, and the final product's reward value is firmly secured by what this drama does right, but the areas in which storytelling fumbles are glaring, undercooking a problematic lead and his leads with only so much substance to all of the convolutedly uneven and overblown layering to otherwise formulaic plotting. The film runs a very serious risk of falling deeply into underwhelmingness, but when I say that inspiration matches misguidance, I really do mean that this film does enough right to engross and reward much more often than not, and immerse as a period piece.
"Criminal", if you will, as it is to say, I don't know if there's anything especially remarkable about the great Ennio Morricone's original score, thus, when timely tunes come into play, that's when the soundtrack really comes to life, with poppy, swinging and, in some cases, noirish jazz pieces that are quality by their own right, and almost as effective in selling the era of this glamorous period drama as Leslie McDonald's art direction, which celebrates distinguished production designs by Dennis Gassner and costume designs by Albert Wolsky in order to bring 1940s Los Angeles and Las Vegas to life lavishly. The sheer design of the film itself is as gorgeous as it is convincing, but Allen Daviau ices the cake, with cinematography whose crisply dreamy lighting is controlled enough to never be overwrought, yet prominent enough to be consistently handsome, and sometimes breathtaking as the pinnacle of style which, quite frankly, is more realized than the substance. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, as a vain, womanizing and dangerous, maybe even insane mobster, was a dirtbag, and it would take a lot of work to sell him and his story as compelling, though not as much as you might think, for a great deal of immediate intrigue is established through a story concept that offers extensive insight into the sophistication and brutality of organized crime in the 1940s, and into the juicy personal life of an interesting, if problematic figure, and is brought to life in a number of areas by the very man who betrays the potential in possibly an equal number of areas: James Toback. Toback's highly formulaic approach to worthy subject matter is among the most recurrent and least problematic issues of a script which gets more and more convoluted with its overblown and uneven narrative, and never gets very deep with its exposition, but there some solid highlights in the writing, which keeps consistent in a certain wit that goes a long way in livening things up, through snappy dialogue and memorably colorful set pieces, punctuated by some plot structuring and character drawing which is nuanced, but not really brought to life until the material of this intimate drama is sold by the performers. Few characters are explored at length, and hardly any of them, including Siegel, are truly fleshed out, but most every member of a respectable cast delivers on selling his or her role, with a lovely Annette Bening all but stealing the show in her weighty, if thinly layered portrayal of a woman who frequently feels betrayed by a man of crime she loves, while Warren Beatty carries the show, with sparkling charisma and nuance so much more realized than it is in the script that Beatty becomes Siegel, and makes him a worthy lead through powerful layers. Beatty is a borderline powerhouse, and no matter how unlikable his character is on people, it's hard to not be compelled by Beatty's portrayal of the Siegel, and yet, the performances, style and writing highlights cannot truly save this drama as rewarding, not without inspiration to Barry Levinson's direction, and sure enough, what offscreen inspiration there is stands firm within Levinson's tightly paced storytelling, which is always very entertaining, with more controlled moments whose tension and resonance define impressive heights in this film. There is so much misguidance, but about as much, if not more inspiration, and although this film is not nearly what it could have been, there is enough color and realization on and off of the screen to drive the final product as a rewarding watch for the patient.
When the deal is done, a lack of background development is by no means justified by thin characterization, even for a lead who is too problematic to be especially compelling in a sloppily uneven, convolutedly busy and deeply formulaic narrative, which could have meant underwhelmingness that is almost miraculously kept far at bay, by the groovy soundtrack, lavish art direction, gorgeous cinematography, clever writing highlights, strong performances - the strongest of which being by Warren Beatty - and inspired direction which save Barry Levinson's "Bugsy" as a rewardingly entertaining and generally effective portrayal of the life and crime of Bugsy Siegel.
3/5 - Good