Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Bugsy (The Mob Box) (1991)
"I have found the answer to the dreams of America."- Ben Siegel (Warren Beatty), on Las Vegas
Stars: Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley
Other Stars: Elliott Gould, Joe Mantegna
Director: Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating: RRun Time: 02h:15m:59s
Release Date: 2006-01-03
DVD ReviewAppropriately enough, this movie, in large measure about the birth of today's Las Vegas, is much like that city itself: eye candy of the first order, but a mile wide and an inch deep. It's a beautifully produced film, with top talent on both sides of the camera—why, then, does it feel a little uninspired? Perhaps because it wants to be a mob movie, and that doesn't really play to the strengths of the assembled artists; and once you've seen the very best (cf., Coppola, Scorsese), you may not want to buy what these guys are selling.
Admittedly, though, there's some stuff here that's pretty gorgeous. This is the story of Ben Siegel—if you call him by the nickname that's used for the title of the movie, you'll get an earful, or worse—a friend of ours, a colleague of Lucky Luciano's and Meyer Lansky's. The selling point here is this: Hollywood, going back to The Public Enemy and beyond, has always been enchanted with gangsters; this is a tale of gangsters just as mesmerized by Hollywood. One of Ben's old buddies, in fact, has made good in Tinseltown—George Raft (played by Joe Mantegna) is a pal of the old gang's, and serves as Ben's ambassador to Los Angeles when Siegel travels west on business. What was to be a four-day stay morphs into years, as Ben is hypnotized by the dream factory, and especially by Virginia Hill, who's been around the block a couple of times—he's not too happy about her past, but the sexual chemistry between them could light up a good portion of the San Fernando Valley.
No doubt that's in part because they're played by Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and you can see the sparks—shortly after the production, they were married, and now are the proud parents of four. Beatty knows a thing or two about screen gangsters (Bonnie and Clyde), and though his is a charismatic presence, it's an odd and somewhat off-key performance. Actor's vanity aside, he's clearly too old for the role; also, Siegel was Jewish, and Beatty is about as kosher as a plate of ham hocks. He lays it on a little thick, and gets lost in some of the character stuff—the diction particularly doesn't quite do it, especially when he's playing against a superbly intense Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky, or Harvey Keitel, as a thuggish and completely reprehensible Mickey Cohen. Bening is a star, no doubt, and in some ways she triumphs over Beatty—she's unapologetic about her past, and you're never quite sure if Ben is her true love, or her latest and best mark.
The story is a little backloaded—the best parts of the movie are about Siegel's quixotic quest to turn a dingy Nevada town, a layover spot where gambling happened to be legal, into the oasis of the American West. (You sort of have to love a movie that has Warren Beatty playing Moe Greene.) Mr. Siegel builds his dream house, and it goes insanely overbudget, ballooning from $1 million to over $6 million, and when you're building for the Mob, cost overruns like that can cost you more than just your Christmas bonus. We never quite get inside of Ben's head—he's a man undone by his jealous rage and his notions of grandeur, and even though he was right about the economic potential in Las Vegas, we never come to empathize with him. There's a set piece in the middle of the film that encapsulates this—it's Ben's daughter's birthday, and he's in from California to celebrate; paying an unannounced visit are Lansky and the boys, and on the phone are Ben's men in L.A. keeping tabs on Virginia. It's not dangerous or comic or tension-filled, though; it's pretty much Warren Beatty running around indicating and wearing a big floppy chef's hat.
The real stars, in many respects, are director Barry Levinson's production team. There's some self-consciously sharp dialogue in James Toback's script, but there are times at which you want to turn down the sound, and savor Allen Daviau's glistening cinematography and Dennis Gassner's impeccable production design. Those may not be enough—you can't leave a musical singing the costumes—but for a movie that's all about appearances and showmanship, something eye-popping should be the signature element.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: A strong effort, with Daviau's work very well rendered—the brighter portions of the palette don't look as good as the moody blacks and blues, though.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
|DS 2.0||English, French||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: Some major balance problems—great swatches of the dialogue can be tough to make out on the stereo track.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mickey One, $
Extras Review: The only extras are trailers for a couple of other Beatty films. And though this title has been released on DVD before, here it's being packaged with similarly themed pictures (Donnie Brasco, Snatch and The American Gangster) in Sony's Mob Box.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsSome high-level technical values and a love of the period are the best things here; as a biography, the movie is kind of opaque, though, and you get the sense that some of the very talented people working on this project (Levinson and Beatty particularly) are a little out of their element.
Jon Danziger 2006-01-17