The Big Brass Ring

The Big Brass Ring

A skeletons-in-the-closet political drama, this was supposed to be an Orson Welles movie, possibly starring Burt Reynolds or Robert Redford and potentially going in front of the cameras at some point in the early eighties. Had it been made, it may have ended up as a quirky, culty item to sit alongside, say, Winter Kills. Instead, it joined the pile of unrealised Welles projects, but his screenplay (co-written with his partner Oja Kodar) was overhauled by George Hickenlooper and critic FX Feeney, and produced in 1999 by Millennium Pictures, an outfit best known for its straight-to-video action movies and occasional oddball auteur efforts (like Donald Cammell's final film, Wild Side). We're in the latter category here, and it seems the Welles connection allowed Hickenlooper to access an eclectic set of actors for his main cast: William Hurt, Miranda Richardson, Irène Jacob, Nigel Hawthorne. He also tries to inject as much style into proceedings as possible, having clearly taken lessons from Oliver Stone's output during the nineties, but the minimal budget is always apparent, stifling the ambition. With that said, we're not always watching Hickenlooper's film – there's a ghost movie unfolding at the same time, as we try to intuit the what if of an Orson Welles-directed version as well as determining what survives of his original screenplay. There are certain florid bits of business with Hawthorne and a flatulent monkey that wouldn't be out of place among the cameos in The Trial, for example. Whereas the throwaway nods to Citizen Kane and Chimes at Midnight are surely little film studies games from Feeney and the new director. Ultimately, it's always interesting, never fully satisfying.