Bugsy Is A Well-Crafted Biopic About The Man That Created Modern Las Vegas

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Who among you have already been to Las Vegas? One of the biggest entertainment centers in the United States is a traditional tourist stop for those who ever find themselves in the desert regions of the southern US, and if you’ve ever been dazzled by the bright lights and loud sounds of the city, then you’re not the only one to fall under its spell. If you’ve always wondered how Las Vegas ever became Las Vegas, the most famous/infamous den of gambling and adult entertainment in the whole wide world, where everything that happens stays there, then you should look no further than the story of mobster Bugsy Siegel.

There are a lot of stories that romanticize the life and exploits of Bugsy Siegel, but there’s no better one yet, I believe, than the well-reviewed 1991 biopic simply titled Bugsy, with iconic movie actor Warren Beatty leading the cast as the title character.

It’s a project that Beatty himself had always wanted to pursue at the time, and he finally got his wish after a couple of decades, resulting in the production of this movie. In this review, I will see whether it was a good move to do so.

Bugsy follows the story of Siegel back in the 1940s, sometime around or after the war, who moves from New York (where he works for the mob) to Los Angeles, falling in love with Hollywood actress Virginia Hill (played by Annette Bening). The two have an affair, and Bugsy begins his West Coast life in Beverly Hills in a huge house. Bugsy is in California to try and gain control of the territory by trying to hit all the operations within the West Coast. Bugsy makes allies and enemies while he’s in California, eventually making plans to build a large hotel casino in Las Vegas, the Flamingo, using money from New York mobsters to develop the small city of Las Vegas and turn the desert land into the Las Vegas Strip we know today.

After a lot of twists and turns surrounding Bugsy’s different associates, enemies, and former friends, the movie eventually culminates in the tragic end of Siegel’s murder, after the Flamingo opens to a disappointing evening and Virginia, who he assigned as the bookkeeper of the hotel, steals $2 million of the hotel’s budget and the mobsters find out about it. Virginia also returns the money she stole and commits suicide right after that. But this initial turmoil is what eventually leads to the Strip being infamous for what it is.

If there’s any one performance that carried the entirety of this movie Bugsy, then it has to belong to the iconic Warren Beatty, who pulls off a stunning and exciting turn as the mobster that molded Vegas into what it is today. The father of modern entertainment, if you will. You can already get hooked on the promise of the movie and the strength of its story by just watching the trailer alone. Check it out:

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One of the most striking things about Bugsy is how well and faithfully it recreates the look of the 1940s. No review of this movie should forego mentioning the accuracy of director Barry Levinson and his cinematographers and production designers on maintaining the big-sized aesthetic. Everything back in the 1940s was gigantic, from home appliances to cars; everything. Indestructible, too, and artsy in its function. There’s definitely something to be said when a film from the 1990s successfully looks like it was shot 50 years ago with modern-day (at the time) technology, especially back then when things weren’t as good as we have them now.

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And Bugsy also manages to turn a real-life story and make it seem so compelling, which proves that it’s all about the adaptation. Bugsy benefits from simply being about the stretch of time the mobster went to the West Coast and kickstarted the development of Las Vegas. One of the more interesting subplots of the movie involves Bugsy Siegel’s lover Virginia Hill, who doesn’t seem to be sure about who she loves more: the man making the money, or the money itself. Bugsy is not merely a movie that’s a character study of its main protagonist, but it’s also full and deep enough to be a relatively thorough study of the people that surround Siegel in their own orbits. The cast of the movie is also pretty strong, with underrated heavyweights of both the genre (actors such as Joe Mantegna and Harvey Keitel) and film itself (like Sir Ben Kingsley) coming in to support the story with the gravity of their acting.

Going back to the story real quick: the adaptation pulls no punches in painting Bugsy as no innocent character, completely showing him as a man who was aware of the choices he was making. If anything, beside this portrayal of Bugsy of a man who’s committed his own sins, it still also is sympathetic to him in a way. The film positions all of the supporting characters in the cast in such a way as to frame Bugsy as equally innocent of his actions and consequences, somewhat suggesting that those around him are worse than he is. At the end of the day, however, judgment is still left to the viewer as to whether Bugsy Siegel really was an upstanding man that deserved to be honored as the father of modern Las Vegas, and all the opportunities it’s brought people over the years. That three-dimensional depiction of Siegel is good enough to balance differing viewpoints on the man and his myth.

Regardless of whether you’re into mobster films or gambling or Las Vegas, if you clicked on this review looking for a good movie to watch, then Bugsy is totally worth watching. It may depend on your personal preferences on whether you should actively seek this out, but if you do come across it, take a moment of your time and keep watching. If nothing else, it’s a well-told story of a man who went to a foreign land, had a vision and grand ambition for that land, and paid for that future with his own sacrifices, the biggest one being his own life. While not on the same scale, it’s most likely a story some of us can definitely relate to. Except for the part where he pretty much builds Las Vegas as we know it today, though. But seriously, go watch this movie.

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