This is an outstanding movie, full of brutal murder, conscienceless business dealings, hidden mikes and political prostitution. In other words, it's a great comedy of politics and power. It is probably one of the funniest, most paranoid black comedies yet made.
On a tramp freighter a dying man confesses that he was the second shooter who assassinated, 19 years earlier, President Timothy Kegan. Kegan was a young, charismatic president who seemed to have a great future. On the ship, apparently by coincidence, is Nick Kegan (Jeff Bridges), who was the younger brother of the president. And, also perhaps by coincidence, the ship is part of the multi-billion dollar business empire owned by Nick's and Timothy's father, Pa Kegan, played by John Huston.
Nick Kegan immediately heads for home to tell his father what he's learned. With his father's blessing, he sets out to find the truth about the assassination. During his investigation he encounters an aging, rich right-winger (Sterling Hayden) who likes to set up his own war games using his own tanks; a mob boss and killer (Ralph Meeker), a weird computer expert who seemingly has many of the answers on his tapes (Anthony Perkins), a knowing society hostess (Elizabeth Taylor), a sympathetic manservant (Torshiro Mifune), a hard-bitten clean-up man (Richard Boone) and so on. But don't let this list of eccentric cameos put you off. They all work very well. As Nick finds out more, people start to die...especially the people around him.
The heart of the movie is Bridges. He brings naive trust to the role. All he wants is the truth; he doesn't want to hurt people. His tendency is to believe what they tell him. When he realizes death is following him, he doesn't know what to do about it. Gradually, he becomes determined to learn the truth wherever it might lead.
And just as much a partner of Bridges in the success of the story is John Huston's turn as Pa Kegan. Kegan is simply in a class by himself. He's dynamic, utterly ruthless, cynical and completely charming. Some of the things he does are unbelievably amoral, but they're funny if you're willing to let your worse half take over.
This is a movie worth having. I watch it every so often and enjoy it every time.
The story of how the movie finally got made is almost as engrossing as the movie. It was financed by a couple of guys making money from soft porn and drugs. The money ran out a couple of times until they found more cash. Once the writer and director, William Richert, had to stop production entirely, make another move to earn cash, and then return to finish the last scenes. During all this, Bridges stayed with him. When the movie finally was released, the production company who had it put no money behind it, the movie disappeared without a trace, and was resurrected only three or four years ago when the DVD was made of it. And if you like the movie, I strongly recommend the book, Winter Kills, by Richard Condon. It's even better.
The DVD looks and sounds fine. The three interviews, which are on the Region 1 release, with the director, cast and production crew are insightful, sad and funny. The only caveat I'd have is Huston's advice during the climax. I don't think I'd invest heavily in Brazil.