Plot: What’s it about?
Whenever a movie is made about politics or Washington, D.C., it’s almost a lock that scandal and corruption will make their way into the storyline. The Big Brass Ring is no exception, although it does break the mold for movies of the political genre. This movie deals with one man’s desire to someday occupy the White House, and just how far he would go to achieve that goal. Blake Pellarin (William Hurt) is a man who knows what he wants. He wants to be president, but he also knows he must work his way up the system’s ladder to get there. Currently, he is involved in a tight race for Governor of Missouri, but he is confident that he can come out on top. In fact, Blake seems to posses everything he needs to win the race, with his wit, charm, good looks, ambition, and of course, money. But we all know that things tend to spin out of control right at the time we think we have it all together, and that’s what happens to Blake. A news reporter (Irene Jacob) says a name from Blake’s past that brings back memories, his forgotten mentor emerges with something he’d like to destroy, and his marriage is on the rocks as well. With all these people hovering around him with the chance to ruin him, Blake must not only keep them at bay, but also balance his campaign to ensure his chance at the biggest brass ring of them all, the White House.
The Big Brass Ring is a very interesting movie, giving yet another cinematic glance at how our political system works. The main draw of this film is in the writing, which is excellent. The details and twists are executed to perfection, and the plot unfolds very realistically. The idea for this story actually came from Orson Welles, and was then rewritten for this movie by different writers. If you’re interested in the film’s writing, be sure to check out the commentary, which features the director and one of the co-writers, both of whom were involved in the process of reworking the story for this movie. Another thing that stand out when I watch the film is the camerawork, which uses some very subtle framing and movement to progress the tone. I also like the fact that the cuts are well timed, and deliberately paced. More and more these days, directors and editors are opting for super fast cuts instead of pacing the film well. For “all go, no slow, big nuts Harry Stamper” type movies, the quick cuts work, but they would not have worked here. Character development is superb, especially William Hurt’s character. Hurt is amazing here, and I think if you admire Hurt’s work, you’ll love this one. Drama fans also have something to cheer about, I think they’ll enjoy this one as well. If you enjoy political thrillers, you’ll dig this flick as well.
In addition to the fabulous writing and directing, The Big Brass Ring features a knock out cast, headed by William Hurt and Miranda Richardson. Hurt (Dark City, Lost in Space) turns in one of the best performances of his career, giving Blake such depth and believability. Although the supporting cast in this movie is great, Hurt puts on a blockbuster of a show, and stands head and shoulders above the rest. Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Apostle) gives another fine turn in her series of roles as wives of immoral husbands. She plays the role with her usual charisma and skill, but she lacks the overall greatness she has shown before. That’s not to say she’s not good, she’s just been better. Nigel Hawthorne (Tarzan, Demolition Man) and Irene Jacob (Red, U.S. Marshals) also showcase their talent in a skillful manner, bringing some solid depth to the supporting characters they play. Also appearing in The Big Brass Ring is Thomas Patrick Kelly, Gregg Henry (Body Double, Payback), Ewan Stewart, Carmine Giovinazzso, and Jefferson Mays (The Low Life). Not many of these names will be familiar, but even the newcomers give some decent performances.
Video: How does it look?
Presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer looks great, with no glaring errors to report. The movie was made in 1999, so the print, as expected, looks clean and free of all but minor dust and flecks. The overall image is very slick and looks more like film than video, which is a good thing to me, but some people don’t care for that style of image. The movie is dark in tone, the screen usually filled with shadows, but the disc comes through in the clutch. With all the darkness and shadows, the black levels are crucial to the visual presentation, and thankfully, they are deep and correct. No shadow layering issues arise, and detail level is full, even in the darkest crevices. Colors are also high grade, and provide a unique vibrance when they clash with the usual darker tones, it’s very visually impressive. The disc is also free of compression errors, what a great transfer!
Audio: How does it sound?
This movie, if you cannot tell from my description, is not the type of movie to show off your sound system with. The Big Brass Ring is dialogue driven, so the score and subtle effects are the only portions of the audio to implement the surrounds. The score is very good, helping set the general tone of the movie, and the disc makes it sound great, with a rich, textured sound. As I said, the only effects that appear are ones I will let you hear for yourself and some subtle effects, and the surrounds are given most of the night off. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and that’s what is important for this movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Wow, Columbia has stocked this disc with goodies! First off you get a running commentary with the director, who is joined by the co-writer. Both men delve into the technical aspects of the film, and spend some time detailing how the story was adapted from Welles to the screen. Not the most entertaining track, but it’s filled with information you’ll want to hear, if you like the movie. You also get some deleted scenes, which is nice, although it’s quite easy to see why the materials got cut. Rounding out the disc is the theatrical trailer, bonus trailers, talent files, and liner notes.