Apparently, Zak’s stepdad is a JFK assassination buff and has been bugging him for quite some time to watch this week’s film, Winter Kills. The film was directed by William Richert and not only started, but for all intents and purposes ended his directorial career. Rightly so, in my opinion.
To be fair, I thought the opening credits, which focused on a chess game being played on an elaborate chess set ending in a resignation, were pretty great. It was all downhill from there.
Jeff Bridges plays Nick Kegan, the (significantly) younger half brother of President Tim Kegan, whose assassination occurs 19 years prior to the events in the film.
Well, that’s about all you need to know. To call this movie a thinly-veiled allegory of the Kennedy assassination is an insult to thinly-veiled allegories everywhere. Sure, the assassination takes place in February of 1960 rather than November of 1963, and in Philadelphia rather than Dallas, but that’s where the dissimilarities end. I mean, they named the Jack Ruby character “Joe Diamond”.
Anyway, the movie opens with a dying mummy being helicoptered out onto a boat somewhere to make a deathbed confession – he shot President Tim Kegan. The sequence of events that gets a Kegan advisor to find deathbed boy and airlift him to Nick’s tanker or shipping boat or whatever it is is kind of skipped. The confession isn’t much, but he points Nick to where the rifle used was hidden, initiating a sequence of events that, in hindsight, make no sense at all.
Nick is torn in two directions – one by President-Daddy Kegan, who is a business magnate of some sort and philanderer par excellence. Daddy goes from not terribly interested in pursuing the thing to spearheading Nick’s moves overnight, just about the same time that people start dropping like flies. Maybe.
I say “maybe” because by the end of the film, it’s not really clear in most cases what has happened. For instance, the above “meeting” that Daddy set up between Nick and the challenger his brother defeated in the general election – a full-on Hollywood fever dream about what Republicans aspire to be – turns out to have been faked, apparently. I think. There’s not exactly a lot of reliable narrators in the film.
Nick is torn because his girlfriend, to whom outside of a few bouts of steamy lovemaking he normally speaks only through her answering machine (which, incidentally, is bigger than a modern desktop computer), claims to be an editor for a major news magazine and to have mob contacts that will help. Not that any of the information they give him is any good (like the part where it was the Marilyn Monroe character behind the assassination), if they’re really mob contacts at all. In fact, Nick only escapes being blown up in a badly drawn-in and completely inexplicable mob restaurant explosion because he decides to chase after an equally inexplicable bubble-gum chewing woman with a child on a tandem bicycle. It’s her second and final appearance in the film, and neither makes any sense. I think she symbolizes Gratuitous Symbolism.
The girlfriend, of course, turns out to be some sort of plant. Maybe. She definitely ends up dead.
Well, to make a confusing story short, Nick eventually heads over to the computer-filled death-star-ventilation-shafted James-Bondesque lair of his father’s, well, puppetmaster I suppose is the word. The puppetmaster tells him a lot of stories, most of which probably can’t be true (like the one about his girlfriend being the mastermind behind the assassination…let’s just say that from the steamier scenes it’s pretty clear she was probably in kindergarten 19 years ago), but in the end he accuses Daddy of the murder.
When Nick confronts Daddy, Daddy in turn blames the puppetmaster, but brings in some lackeys to kill Nick anyway. Nick uses the tried-and-true method of shielding himself with lackey #1, and using his gun to shoot lackey #2 as lackey #2’s bullets take out the human shield. It’s a really complicated move and you’ve never ever seen it in a movie before, so I hope I described it accurately. At this point, Daddy jumps out of the window for some inexplicable reason but catches himself on a huge American flag as if he didn’t really mean to jump out of a window after all. He gives Nick some out-of-place advice about his financial empire then tears up the American flag to shreds as he falls to his death in a bit of subtle symbolism, if by subtle you mean Danny DeVito hitting Billy Crystal over the head with a frying pan in Throw Momma From The Train.
The strangest thing about this movie is that it’s made out to be good. Internet sites left and right call it an overlooked gem. The DVD has a whole disc of bonus features. Elizabeth Taylor has a cameo (wait, no, actually maybe that explains things). The original novel was written by Richard Condon, who wrote The Manchurian Candidate. In fact, I’m going to have to watch The Manchurian Candidate again just to make sure it isn’t crappy after all. Do conspiracy theory buffs really want to sit through a movie where nothing at all makes sense and everybody is accused of everything? I don’t know. Maybe they do. Not me. I like stories that are internally consistent. Go figure.