Barry Levinson's film 'Bugsy' should be considered one of the greatest gangster movies ever made. Combining a moving plot, first-class acting, superb directing, and an award-worthy score, 'Bugsy' rises above both period-piece movies and pointless gangster flicks.
The plot of the film follows the events in mobster Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel's life that culminated in both the founding of Las Vegas and his own death. As the plot includes Siegel's relationship with Virginia Hill, it also shows his deteriorating relationship with his family (wife Esta and children) and associates (including Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano), and it also looks at Siegel's fascination with becoming a celebrity. Most prominently, though, is his dream of creating something: that something which was the hotel and casino Flamingo. And it is this plot, which artfully switches back and forth between Siegel's personal and business lives, that sets the film upon a pedestal (so to speak). It is this blending of personal and professional which sets Bugsy apart from other gangsters by making him human. Yes, he may be a heartless killer, a faithless philanderer, remorseless criminal, hopeless dreamer, but those very characteristics are the same which make him more than the run-of-the-mill gangster. The myth dissolves as the man emerges; and the audience sympathizes with Siegel, even if they do not approve of him.
To say that the acting is excellent hardly does the actors justice. Beatty is a complex and intense Siegel, driven by his passions, weighted by his faults, and, ultimately, just another flawed individual and not (as Siegel once thought) indestructible. Played by Bening, Virginia Hill is Siegel's strong counterpoint whose own ambitious and self-interested exterior is underscored by a caring and sincere interior. Mickey Cohen is very understated of character, sometimes communicating more than just his words, a feat performed flawlessly by Keitel. Kingsley, as Meyer Lansky, is touchingly caring of his friend Siegel, torn between their friendship and his own professionalism. And the rest of the supporting cast--including Mantegna, Gould, Sarafian, and Graham--is talented, and each has an irreplaceable role in the film.
Barry Levinson's directing makes the film all the more special. The shots and angles are all completely appropriate. The style even seems to lend itself to the feel of the era (with the help of great lighting and costuming). At times, the action moves staccato and sharp: all business. And then the flow slows down to a more leisurely pace (like the era). At times, the directing is even elegant, as in the scene at Siegel's house with Virginia, where the camera pans to show the two's silhouettes on a projection screen; or during their love scene, where the time progresses as the camera follows the trail of clothing to the bed, when it has become morning; or two of the final scenes outside the Flamingo (one of Siegel waiting for patrons who do not arrive, the other of he and Virginia united for a final time) as the rain pours down from a night sky. Levinson covers a tremendous amount of ground (due to the numerous sub-plots) while keeping the momentum. And the score of the film, (deserving more awards than it received) of 1940's songs (including 'Why Don't You Do Right (Get Me Some Money Too!)' and 'Candy')and Ennio Morricone's original compositions, not only sets the tone, but the time period. 'For Her, For Him' and 'Act of Faith' in particular are simply captivating, but the entire score is truly a masterpiece.
For such reasons, 'Bugsy' is a pleasure to watch over again, and is destined to become a classic.