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Many viewers have raised the issue about how true or false this film is
to the original screenplay Orson Welles developed in 1982 with Oja
Kodar. Because I wrote the many final drafts of the screenplay directed
by George Hickenlooper, I can comment with authority. (Fear not -- I'll
On the surface it is a very free adaptation. Underneath, it is highly faithful... Welles's original script was set in Spain and the Congo. We set ours along the Mississipi and in Cuba. Nevertheless, the characters have kept their original names and essential personalities through the many adaptations George and I devised (whether separately or together) between 1991 and '98.
Welles's tale centered on a Presidential hopeful who escapes his wealthy wife's yacht and pursues a clandestine adventure with his aged political mentor (a part Welles wrote for himself). This grand sage, a fallen Lucifer of American politics, was a candidate for President in his own prime -- until he was outed as a homosexual. In Welles's original, the two old friends engage in a psychological chess match involving a long-vanished woman they both know. In ours, they play an equally rough game over a long-lost brother.
(Welles himself had a troubled brother, Richard, who shadowed him throughout his life. THAT felt like a deeper wound to explore in Welles's wake than the ghost of a missing mistress.)
In both versions, the reunion between the hero and his old mentor sparks a dark merry go round of busy pursuits. An ambitious reporter modeled on Italy's Oriana Fallaci chases Blake and flirts with him, and tries to penetrate the secret of his soul, particularly his connection to the old man. The candidate's wife (jealous of the mentor) schemes and looses a murderous espionage agent on the old man's tail.
Details vary, sometimes wildly, between what Welles conceived and what we executed. My wish in retrospect is that we had played certain cards face up in terms of story secrets. (I won't say which ones here -- no spoilers!) More and more, I'm convinced that Hitchcock was right to keep as few secrets as possible from HIS audience. Less confusing AND more suspenseful!
Were we wrong to take liberties? No. A film must be a living thing. As Welles always advised young filmmakers, "Be Bold!" He is after all the guy who conflated five Shakespeare plays into a single new one centered on the character Falstaff -- CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.
I'm giving this movie only a "7 out of 10" out of respect to everyone who adds posts to this board yet is NOT one of the filmmakers. (I'm too close to be objective: My heart says, "Give it a ten." Flaws and all, I'm very proud of it.)
I can offer one bit of impartial praise: William Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Miranda Richardson, Irene Jacob, Jeff Mayes and Ewan Stewart all give superb, multi layered performances. Welles could have asked for no better group to embody the characters he originated.
The Big Brass Ring apparently never made it to a movie theater, and doesn't get anywhere else, either. The script, credited posthumously to Orson Welles, takes a number of twists and turns, but they are neither clever or clear. William Hurt portrays Missouri gubernatorial candidate Blake Pellarin, an independent running against another independent, which is unlikely enough. The fact that both candidates sport Southern accents even though it is set in Missouri is another peculiarity that is never explained. Miss it and you'll be better off.
Why do a film from an Orson Welles' script and then change it so much that it might as well be a regular bad film only it now looks worse, if that's possible, because it will be compared to Welles real films. Nothing about it feels like Welles so what was it they found in the material that made them excited about making a film of it. It doesn't hold a candle to any "real" Welles film on any level. William Hurt and the rest of the cast seem to have been encouraged to make as little of every scene as possible. Boring, listless, pointless film that should earn it's writer and director special places in hell for blowing the opportunity for a famously un-produced script to get made.
"The Big Brass Ring" tells of a Missouri gubernatorial candidate (Hurt) who find himself haunted by guilt, stalked by a beautiful reporter, and the possible target of an assassination plot. A blotch on "Singblade" director Hickenlooper's resume coming on the heels of a worthy little indie "Dogtown", this tale of redemption and regret loses it humanness in a circus of pompous dialogue, overwrought histrionics, vague noir ambiance, and disjointed editing. In spite of fine performances and filming, "The Big Brass Ring" can't manage one believable character much less one reason to care leaving only a sense of detached ambivalence and confusion. A very attractive but passable DVD watch for fans of the players only. (C)
William Hurt plays Gubernatorial candidate William Blake, in the final days
of his election campaign. Nigel Hawthorne is Kim Mennaker, a svengali figure
from Blake's childhood, who lives in Cuba for some reason, and has evidence
which can sink Blake's election chances. Actually, by halfway through the
movie, half of Missouri seems to have this evidence, and why nobody actually
uses it is about as bewildering as why Hurt wanders about all night with a
monkey on his shoulder, which he had previously complained had urinated all
over him - unless that's a pun on a monkey for his back.
As usual, William Hurt is boring (look, I'm sorry, but he just is). Nigel Hawthorne, on the other hand, is incapable of being less than good, though his character is really quite ridiculous.
An understated movie, which, I admit, has emotional subtleties and plot complexities which keep it above average, but which ultimately don't save it from being a bit soporific. I'll give it 6.0. Worth watching, but don't expect to be dazzled.
This is a murky story of politics, scandal, sex and deception. Sounds
it should have been a great film, but it wasn't. The basic plot was sound
as we might expect from Orson Welles. But the way it was presented was
disjointed and abstruse. Without reading the original script, it is hard
tell if the responsibility for this lies with Welles, Oja Kodar (who did
adaptation) or George Hickenlooper, the director. I suspect it is the
The biggest problem I had was character development. By the end of the film one should reasonably expect the pieces to fit together. Good character development should give us insight into the characters' motivation. I found this lacking. The flashbacks didn't really help us to understand the motivations of the characters as much as they should have. It seems that the brothers voluntarily switched identities, since Billy was wearing a name tag that said "Romero" on his uniform when he left to go to war. So, Blake really didn't steal his brother's identity as it appeared. This wasn't made very clear.
There were lots of loose ends here. What motivated the limo driver to do what he did? Was it a need to be close to power, or some personal vendetta? Who knows?
From a directorial and cinematography point of view, the film was far too dark, that is, underexposed. I'm certain they were trying for that look, but it made the photography look as if it were shot on 30 year old film of poor quality. Also, the audio was very bad. It was very difficult understanding a lot of the dialogue.
William Hurt was miscast in this role. For certain films, his puling, self tortured style of delivery are appropriate to the character (Big Chill, Broadcast News, Children of a Lesser God). However, in this film his character required a more dynamic and confident portrayal, which he was unable to deliver.
Nigel Hawthorne gave the best performance as Kim Mennaker, the Senator who brought the boys up. His ability to portray the old political warhorse, seduced by the trappings of power was excellent.
Irene Jacob gave a good performance as Cela, the reporter with an obsession for the candidate and the truth behind him.
Overall, the whole was less than the sum of the parts. The presentation was ponderous and uneven and the direction mediocre at best. Worth a 5/10. If you are looking for political campaign stories, there are better choices (Primary Colors, The Candidate, with Robert Redford).
Some interesting backgrounds and roots. A deliciously sinister performance
by Hawthorne, and an earnest one by Hurt. And professional
Murder-She-Wrote-killer-and/or-victim Gregg Henry is perfectly cast as
Too bad that the writing and direction are so miserable, and the flashbacks interjected so randomly and pointlessly that I couldn't follow it, and didn't care to.
This may be a flawed masterpiece or perhaps a mediocre movie with a lot
to recommend it. I enjoyed it and would like to see it again, partly to
make sure the plot worked and partly to catch some nuances that I
missed. And also because, as my esteemed colleague, flickjunkie, notes
below, the audio is atrocious and my ears are not as sharp as they once
were. But life is short and the entire opus of film is long...but maybe
I can edit with the fast forward!
Okay, let's look at the evidence. Script by Orson Welles: somewhat amazing since he died in 1985. His last work. That alone may make this worth watching. William Hurt plays a southern pol, Blake Pellarin, running for governor of Missouri. Miranda Richardson plays his rich, alcoholic wife, and she is very good. Nigel Hawthorne is Kim Mennaker, Blake's one time mentor, a shadowy, behind the scenes political figure, a cynical character who is writing a 27,000-page memoir, which no doubt includes much about his love for the Pellarin boys. Irène Jacob plays Cela Brandini, a TV reporter fascinated with Blake. The one-time protégé of French-Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski is not shown to advantage here. I'm not sure why, but there is little subtlety in the way she plays the part. To really appreciate what she can do, see her in La Double vie de Véronique (1991) or Trois Couleurs: Rouge (1994), both directed by Kieslowski. She is very beautiful and very winning.
William Hurt, contrary to some opinion, was excellent. His characteristic laid-back, almost languid style works strangely well for a southern pol. He is certainly different, but believable, although I don't think his style would have worked had his character been running for president, as in Welles's original script. (Incidentally, they really wanted Louisiana, not Missouri, for the locale.) Hurt's performance reminds me in some ways of his work in the outstanding but now somewhat neglected, Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), for which he won an academy award.
The Big Brass Ring never had a theatrical release, and it is not hard to see why. The print is too dark and the story too murky and hard to follow. It appears that the brothers changed identities when young and never bothered to change back. Apparently Blake's brother and not Blake was the subject of the homosexual photo, but I'm not sure. To make this movie work for a mass audience, the true status of the boys then, and during the time of the action, must be made clear.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
This film's one source of interest is that it is based on a screenplay co-written by Orson Welles. Sadly it is quite simply a bad script - convoluted, pretentious, and unmoving. There is nothing here to dispel the fact that in his latter years Welles was a tragic figure who had long since lost the brilliance he had exhibited in the first half of his life. The script, bad acting, and low-budget conspire to give this film turkey status.
I found this a moving and refreshingly upbeat "take" on the "flawed hero"
theme. The pursuit of power has led all the characters to make ruthless
morally dubious choices yet they still strive for some sort of decency in
their relationships and by the end of the film have just about achieved
Yes it's a bit melodramatic but unrealistic? - the more I learn of American
politics the more real it seems ( Clinton? Kennedy?)
Don't be put of by those reviewers who claim the plot isn't clear. If you
pay attention it is! Pellarin's body guard for example is a Vietnam
& turns against Blake when he discovers he draft-dodged. The performances
are all excellent, particularly William Hurt's as Blake. For the first time
I realised I may actually have something in common with these larger than
life politicians and they may be as interested as I am in making the world
little better for us all.
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