American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a movie about a character who is slow to catch on. When I'm watching a movie and something is perfectly obvious and the hero persists in not understanding it, my frustration grows and I want to shout advice at the screen. "Best Seller" has a character like that, played by Brian Dennehy, an intelligent actor who usually plays characters who are fairly swift. Not this time.
The movie apparently is loosely inspired by the works and career of Joseph Wambaugh, the Los Angeles cop who tried staying on the force after his books hit the best-seller lists. In "Best Seller," Dennehy plays a famous author who still is active as a policeman, but as we join him we learn that his life is a shambles. He mourns the death of his wife, he is trying to raise his daughter single-handedly, he is drinking too much and he has a writer's block that has prevented him from delivering on his new book. He is also still running around the docks shooting at criminals, which at his age must be enervating.
Enter James Woods as a consummate con man, a professional killer who has had a change of heart and wants to tell all. The deal he offers is as old as the writing profession itself: He'll tell Dennehy his story, Dennehy will write it up and they'll both make millions. Trouble is, Dennehy doesn't believe the story told by this wild-eyed weirdo, and so Woods sets about proving he's on the level.
How does he do this? By flying Dennehy around the country to the actual locations of several of his contract killings, while reciting a litany of facts: when he did the job, who hired him, how the guy looked, who else was in the room - all kinds of details that, in the time-honored tradition of crime fighting, only the murderer could have known.