A Movie A Day: Quint on BEST SELLER (1987) I ain’t drivin’ nowhere, motherfucker. I’m on my break.
Published at: Nov. 19, 2008, 1:02 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We end our James Woods Marathon with today’s John Flynn movie BEST SELLER, co-starring Brian Dennehy. This movie is so thoroughly ‘80s… I loved it. Nothing like mid to late ‘80s filmmaking… overly-lit, with tons of steam during every single chase scene, but free to tell a tale without a clear-cut bad guy who drops as many F bombs as he wants.
If I had any doubt that this would be an ‘80s extravaganza they were erased when Larry Cohen’s name came up with a writing credit. I love Larry Cohen, especially ‘80s Larry Cohen. MANIAC COP, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT… THE Mother-Fuckin’ STUFF… hell yeah.
But I wasn’t aware that he wrote a straight-up dramatic thriller, let alone one directed by John ROLLING THUNDER Flynn, until stumbling upon this film used as my favorite used DVD store, Buybacks.
Predating POINT BREAK by 4 years, the flick opens with a heist of a police depot by a group wearing Nixon masks. Here we’re introduced to Dennehy, a cop in the wrong place at the right time.
As much as I liked this scene, they slipped up pretty big here. There is no doubt whatsoever that the main masked man is James Woods. His ADR is so clearly James Woods, his voice to distinct even when he tries to mask it, that there’s no doubt who he is.
Basically, Dennehy is left for dead, after getting a knife into the gunman, and ultimately survives to write a best selling book about the robbery. We move forward a decade, out of the ‘70s and into the ‘80s as Dennehy’s life is a mess. He’s a single parent raising his daughter, his wife dead, he owes a book that he’s delayed long enough that there might be legal action against him. Basically the only thing he has left is his job, still working the beat.
That’s where we meet back up with him, as he spring into action at a loading dock chasing down a dude I recognized as an ‘80s action regular, but couldn’t tell you his name. James Woods, decked out in an ‘80s brown suit, pops up out of nowhere, saves Dennehy’s life.
Woods disappears, then shows up a couple scenes later with a proposition. He wants Dennehy to write another book, this time about his former employer, a charming CEO who had a bookful of people knocked off during his rise to power.
Woods admits he’s a hitman and was involved with the robbery from the beginning of the movie, but only in that he was a driver… So there’s the problem with knowing Woods was the gunman who shoots Dennehy twice in the opening of the movie. When Dennehy buys his story and starts working with him on this book, the audience is now an easy half an hour ahead of the movie, just waiting for Dennehy to get wise.
But the real success of the movie is in the writing of Woods’ assassin, Cleve. Cohen didn’t pull any punches with his character. He’s dickish, he’s a cold-blooded killer without an iota of remorse or humanity about that aspect of his life, but as Dennehy gets to know him we find that he is very human. He wants a legacy. He’s helping to implicate his old boss for mysterious reasons, but the more we uncover the more we find out just how desperate he is to be painted as a good guy.
He can never make that change in his life, but he sure as hell can work towards how his image will look in the book. He doesn’t want to be a good man. He wants to be SEEN as a good man.
It’s a fascinating and dark character that Woods relishes playing. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s his best performance. This is the first time in the last few Woods movies where I heard the actor reading his lines and not speaking as the character. He’s still very good in the movie, but there was that distance for me.
Dennehy is good as the straight man, but really doesn’t get much of a chance to shine. His character is simple compared to Woods’, a good guy and good cop. He has one great scene where he is met by representatives fo the corporate who subtly threaten him against writing and publishing the book.
Dennehy gets to be incredibly strong and sarcastic here, flexing nuts and not bowing to any pressure. It’s fun for us to watch and it’s the one moment where I felt his character got to be proactive.
Performance-wise, Dennehy’s strong throughout, but this one scene is where he gets to excel.
John Flynn’s direction is perfectly fine, but the movie is nowhere near his best. For that, try to find either ROLLING THUNDER or THE OUTFIT, starring Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker and Robert Ryan. I don’t think either are out on DVD yet (why the hell not?), but they’re both incredible movies.
Final Thoughts: BEST SELLER is a fun movie, completely in the ‘80s buddy-film mold, but with characters unique enough and a tone dark enough to keep it from becoming lost in the LETHAL WEAPONS of the era. We don’t get movies like this much anymore… extremely violent thrillers with morally reprehensible leads. That alone makes this one worthy of a viewing.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Wednesday, November 19th: THE HOLCROFT COVENANT (1985)
Thursday, November 20th: BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962)
Friday, November 21st: WHITE HEAT (1949)
Saturday, November 22nd: MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957)
Sunday, November 23rd: EACH DAWN I DIE (1938)
Monday, November 24th: THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941)
Tuesday, November 25th: THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)
Tomorrow we follow Victoria Tennant, who has a small role in this film, over to John Frankenheimer's 1985 Robert Ludlum adaptation, THE HOLCROFT COVENANT, starring Michael Caine. See you folks for that one!