Spotlights: Warren Beatty
~ Spotlights is a series from the Hofstra Critics dedicated to highlighting some of the finest work of some of the world's finest artists. ~
Warren Beatty is widely considered to be a Hollywood legend. He has, over the past 55 years, either starred in, produced, written or directed 20-plus films, ranging from comedies to serious dramas. Beatty returns this year with his 23rd film Rules Don’t Apply. Over the decades, he has memorably played many charismatic characters. Here 6 of his all-time best performances.
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Beatty began his film career playing a popular high school hunk by the name of Bud Stamper. The role of the popular high school boy generally comes with negative annotations, such as being too aggressive, or even just arrogant, but here Beatty plays the archetype in such a charismatic manner that audiences instantly empathize with Stamper’s fight for control over his own life. This ability to make his character as likable as possible would be a trademark throughout Beatty’s entire career, no matter what kind of person he was playing. Stamper was very multi-dimensional character, and Beatty supplies him with much emotional depth. This film was without a doubt a breakout role for Beatty, and landed him 2 Golden Globe nominations.
Standout scene: “Down on my knees!”
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The role of real life criminal Clyde Barrow, one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, was a career defining role at the time for Beatty. Beatty’s Oscar nominated performance as Clyde was a game changer and officially made him a prominent Hollywood leading. His take on Barrow was filled with machismo, swagger, brutality and plenty of charm. Just like Bonnie, Clyde was inexperienced at being a criminal but Beatty managed to make us believe in this bad guy and his ability to bluff his way to infamy and success. In Bonnie and Clyde Beatty and his partner in crime Faye Dunaway contributed in changing the Hollywood landscape when it came to not only gangster films but films involving heavy violence. This served as Beatty’s first stab at the crime genre, one that he would return to 3 decades later.
Standout scene: “We rob banks.”
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Playing dual roles is a tricky and sometimes arduous task for an actor. In this ‘78 classic, Beatty played the roles of both Joe Pendleton/Leo Farnsworth and Tom Jarrett flawlessly. Portraying a quarterback who gets sent to heaven too soon, Beatty portrays Pendleton, who gets a chance to do the things he wanted to do with the rest of his life, such as win the Super Bowl, inside another body (with each body being played by Beatty). Beatty captured a full story arc through these characters. One of Pendleton’s host bodies is a man with plenty of talent but feeling lost, another is rich and is need of something big, and the final host looks to capitalize on the big moment, and it all ties in together. Yet another career highlight for the man who earned himself a Best Director and Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.
Standout Scene: "You know how people die?"
It is a filmmaker’s job to be cognizant of a wide swath of information in order to tell different kinds of stories. Beatty, throughout his career, showed a keen level of political intelligence, and that was never more obvious than in Reds. Although when it comes to this film Beatty is remembered most for his Oscar winning direction, acting wise Beatty adeptly played an eager, intelligent young man named John Reed, a real life journalist who covered the Russian Revolution. Reds served as an opportunity for Beatty to portray a heavy romantic side that had not been seen yet from the 44 year-old at the time. Beatty’s solid chemistry with Diane Keaton helped to establish the deep love and passion Reed and his wife Louise Bryant had for each other both personally and professionally and it came off well on screen. A tremendous and emotional performance made Reds his most successful film to date.
Standout Scene: Speech to the Laborers
In one of the most hard-nosed performances of his career, Beatty portrayed the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel. While the performance stays true to Siegel’s notorious temper and his love of glitz and glamour, Beatty showcases through this performance more of the incredible visionary that he was. Siegel was responsible for creating the Las Vegas we know today, and throughout the film Beatty’s work here we see how he always took charge and seized his destiny to make something great. The film also starred his current wife Annette Bening, both of whom were nominated for acting Oscars in 1992.
Standout Scene: "Did you think you could get away with it – stealing from me?!"
Beatty always brought a specific type of comedy to the table. Many of his comedic roles involved characters who weren’t flustered by what was going on, and he always nailed the comedic timing needed to pull off a scene. When 1998’s Bulworth came around, Beatty took a big chance. In a comedic role that went beyond what we normally saw from him, Beatty decided to go off the walls and create a character that was unconventional, uncensored and thought-provoking. The rapping senator Jay Bulworth was brought to life by Beatty, and he gave us a man that was silly, playful, and bold, but intelligent.
Standout Scene: Bulworth Rap
He can make you laugh, he can make you cry, and at the end of the day you can't help but love him. Warren Beatty is a true Hollywood legend that continues to add to an already iconic legacy.