Back in 1972, Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy) was a cop working in the stolen property office when something unexpected occurred: a gang of crooks disguised with Richard Nixon masks burst in and robbed the place. These men were never caught in spite of a wide search, and Meechum had more reason to want them tracked down than others because they had shot his colleagues dead and injured him with a bullet too, but the only clue he ever had to their identity was the unusual marks on one of the gunmen's hands. The trail went cold... until fifteen years later.
Best Seller was one of those films best described as a sleeper, for it didn't do very much in cinemas, but on video and its late night television showings it gradually built a cult following among those who appreciated an offbeat thriller well told. No matter what its fans said, it was no neglected classic, but it was the sort of production you could catch and think you hadn't wasted your time as there was enough here to make it worth your while should you be looking for something out of the norm as far as cop flicks went. Not that it was way out there, with John Flynn at the helm it was never going to be anything other than no-nonsense, but it had that certain something.
Mainly what it had were James Woods and Brian Dennehy sparking off each other thanks to a Larry Cohen script, a combination which proved a winner as far as the tension went. If Best Seller boiled down to your basic uneasy alliance between the goodie and ostensible baddie, which may not have been as original as it appeared, it was where it headed with this set-up that mattered. Dennehy's cop in the interim has become a popular crime author, but when we catch up with him has writer's block; all that changes when he receives a proposition from Woods' shadowy Cleve who makes a memorable entrance in his life by shooting dead a crook who was taking aim at Meechum.
The cop turned writer has lost his wife, which is implied as the reason he cannot find any inspiration, so what better replacement for the deceased than a psycho hitman? Meechum and Cleve strike up a strange bond, wary of each other but seeing perhaps subconsciously that they have a need to be around, Meechum for his creativity, and Cleve for the hairbrained scheme he wants his help with. Which is this: if Meechum writes his life story, and specifically how the killer was involved with a corrupt and murderous industrialist (Paul Shenar), then he will have a book to sell and Cleve will have his revenge and redemption.
After that, no matter how Meechum would deny it, there is an unspoken attraction between the two men, as if fascinated by their differences bringing them together, although Cleve is it shown is a loose cannon, never happier when he has someone to kill. Will he endanger Meechum's life, or those of his daughter (Allison Balson) and agent (Victoria Tennant), or, as looks more likely, will those sharks he is now swimming with catch up and devour them all? There's a neat, paranoid mood to Best Seller which is brought out in the manner of the bad guys, anonymous yet sinister men in suits and shades, always turning up, whether watching from cars across the street or taking more muscular steps to foiling Meechum's investigation. Woods and Dennehy held centre stage with effortless ease, both charismatic but achieving a great double act, sometimes funny, other times edgy, and if it ends with more of a whimper than you'd like, otherwise it satisfied. Music by Jay Ferguson.