A melancholy and intimate gangster saga about a romantic dreamer with fatal flaws, Bugsy emerges as a smooth, safe portrait of a volatile, dangerous character. An absorbing narrative flow and a parade of colorful underworld characters vie for screen time with an unsatisfactory central romance.
Handsome pic about the inventor of Las Vegas tells how Benjamin Siegel (Warren Beatty) was sent to LA to take over the West Coast rackets but stayed to become one of the legendary Hollywood characters of the 1940s.
Siegel is a terrific subject for a film, but only part of the story comes across in this intelligently conceived drama. In James Toback’s writing and Beatty’s gutsy playing, Bugsy bursts out as a fully realized, psychologically complex character endowed with very human strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, his great love and female counterpart, Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), remains a one-dimensional and annoying stick figure, throwing great sections of the film out of whack.
Director Barry Levinson treats this punchy, emotionally eruptive story in fluid, almost dreamy fashion, rather like a sordid fairy tale. Although ethnically wrong and lacking a street-tough attitude, Beatty gives a dynamite performance, his most vital and surprising in a long time.
Among the standouts in the impressive supporting cast are Harvey Keitel as a feisty, appealing Mickey Cohen; Ben Kingsley as the impeccably businesslike Meyer Lansky; and director Richard Sarafian as the pathetic Jack Dragna. Elliott Gould effectively underplays the weak squealer Harry Greenberg. Joe Mantegna is oddly cast as George Raft.
1991: Best Art Direction, Costume Design.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Warren Beatty), Supp. Actor (Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score