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Film / Best Seller

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Meechum: Corporations don't have people killed.
Cleve: Corporations deal in two things, period assets and liabilities. I removed the liabilities.

Best Seller is a 1987 American neo-noir crime thriller film directed by John Flynn, written by Larry Cohen and starring Brian Dennehy and James Woods. The supporting cast includes Victoria Tennant, Paul Shenar, George Coe, Mary Carver and Kathleen Lloyd.

After Officer Dennis Meechum (Dennehy) is nearly killed in an armed robbery at a police station in 1972, he becomes an esteemed non-fiction crime novelist. Fifteen years later, while going through a period of Writer's Block, he's approached by a mysterious man named Cleve (Woods), who wants Meechum to write about his life as a hit man for powerful businessman David Madlock (Shenar).

The film served as inspiration for Domovoy, a 2008 Russian film with the same premise, featuring an ensemble Russian cast.

This film provides examples of:

  • The Alibi: When Cleve says he was one of the robbers (although he claims to have been the driver), Meechum threatens to arrest him. Cleve retorts that twelve people will swear he was in Chicago on that day.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The woman Cleve picks up wants to sleep with Meechum too, after he publicly beat Cleve.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The scene where Cleve intimidates Meechum's publisher in her bedroom is utterly terrifying.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After Meechum turns down the bribe, Madlock has his daughter kidnapped to make it clear that refusing to join Kappa Industries is not an option.
  • Badass Boast: When told there's five guards protecting Madlock, Cleve says that his former boss always did underestimate him.
  • Badass Bystander: The diamond smuggler is fleeing Meechum and tries to hijack a car, brandishing his .38. The black man in the driver's seat turns round with a .45 and tells him he can't oblige as he's on his lunch break. The criminal gets an Oh, Crap! look and flees.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Cleve, who is arguably more deadly than all of Madlock's other thugs put together.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Meechum realizes Cleve intends to kill Madlock, whereupon Cleve brings up this trope. Ultimately averted however.
  • Break-In Threat: Cleve breaks into the house of Meechum's publisher, holds a knife to her throat and slices up her dresses, just to threaten her into letting him have an advance look at the book.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: The robbery is of a box filled with 1.5 million dollars in the police evidence room.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Cleve talks to Madlock via the school speaker system, just as he's about to call the police. Cleve uses an extension to do so, which also cuts off the call.
  • Camping a Crapper: Cleve kills one of Madlock's bodyguards in the washroom.
  • The Charmer: Despite Cleve and Meechum being complete strangers, Cleve talks an old lady in New York into letting them enter her house and walk around in private, so he can show Meechum how he committed a murder there years before.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Meechum is checking a knife into the evidence room when the robbery takes place. He uses it to stab Cleve when he's about to shoot him. During the incident, he also witnesses the cigarette burns on Cleve's palm.
  • The Chessmaster: Meechum demands Cleve take him to see his family, only to find that Cleve contacted them a week before to say they'd be visiting in seven days.
  • Cigarette Burns: Cleve does this to himself as Macho Masochism. This is what tips off Meechum that he's the same masked robber he stabbed years before, having seen the scars on his palm.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: The diamond smuggler is about to shoot Meechum from an overhead gantry when Cleve shoots him and does a Stealth Hi/Bye.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: Madlock sends a printed invitation to Meechum for a party at the school for disadvantaged children he donated to the city. It's broad daylight with children playing on the lawn, and no-one is aware that Cleve is walking through the house, killing Madlock's bodyguards one by one.
  • Corporate Samurai: Meechum derides the idea of an assassin working for big business. Cleve says that big business only recognizes assets and liabilities. "I removed the liabilities." Part of his grievance is that he thinks Madlock treated him like a hired thug instead of an example of this trope.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: David Madlock, CEO of Kappa Industries. The Nixon mask robbery provided the seed money for his corporation, and he used Cleve to kill off anyone who was a danger to him.
  • Corrupt Politician: One of Cleve's victims, who was on Madlock's payroll until he tried to back out for self-interested reasons.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: Cleve tells Holly to look out the window. She doesn't, and watches horrified as he kills Carter with a silenced pistol.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Meechum after Pearlman is stupid enough to threaten him inside a police station.
  • Daddy's Girl: Holly is very close with Meechum.
  • Desecrating the Dead: After one of Madlock's hitmen kills a witness that Cleve visited to corroborate his story for Meechum, Cleve is so pissed off that he shoots the hitman's already dead body a few more times before exiting the scene.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: In a non-romantic example Cleve dies in Meechum's arms.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Madlock dismissed Cleve from Kappa Industries with a large cash payout, but Cleve feels he has been disrespected by the gesture and decides to bring him down.
  • Down on the Farm: Cleve's white picket fence home in Oregon, where his family still lives.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock:
    • After Meechum insults Cleve as a freak, he wakes up with Cleve pressing a large revolver against his head. When Meechum refuses to apologise, he cocks the weapon, then pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. Next moment Meechum has Cleve's own Beretta against his face.
    • Cleve does this when he realises Madlock's mooks have tracked them to the sweatshop.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Cleve gets the name of a mook before he kills him, then uses that to get the mook guarding Holly to open the door.
  • Enemy Mine: Cleve and Meechum. Cleve wants revenge, while Meechum needs the money because he's bankrupt after his wife's lingering death. Some revenge for his colleagues killed in '72 wouldn't hurt either.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Cleve is shown to have grown up in a loving family who he cares for. They have no idea what he does for a living. When Meechum asks what will happen when the book is published, Cleve argues that they will defend him, which will give them a purpose in life.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Madlock's attorney offers Meechum a 'substantial advance' if he writes an authorised biography of David Madlock instead. As Madlock's goons have already tried to kill him once, Meechum is not amused.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: After Cleve shows off his wrist-burning trick, Meechum rips open Cleve's shirt to reveal the knife wound scar he gave him in 1972.
    Cleve: Now you know why I never asked you to take a shower with me.
  • Fanservice Extra: The audience gets a quick nude shot of the woman Cleve sleeps with.
  • Flipping the Table: Meechum flips the table and punches Cleve in the face after The Reveal.
  • Freudian Excuse: Averted; Cleve's family love him and vice versa. Meechum suggests he was simply born evil.
  • Get It Over With: When Cleve mocks one of Madlock's bodyguards at his mansion.
    Cleve: Christ, where does David find you people?
    Carter: Skip the insult, just get it over with. (Cleve shoots)
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: As befits a movie made before The '90s, Meechum uses a snubnose .38 revolver while Cleve has a Beretta 9mm automatic.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Meechum puts flowers on his wife's grave.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Cleve is clearly The Sociopath, but lets himself get killed rather than risk Holly's life.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: A policeman has this after Cleve shoots his colleague during the robbery. Cleve pumps a bullet in him to finish the job.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Cleve's shots are unrealistically quiet while he's infiltrating Madlock's school.
  • Human Shield: In the climax, Holly panics and runs towards her father past Madlock, who grabs her as a hostage.
  • Hypocritical Humor
    Cleve: There are some sick people in the world.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Different in that Meechum refuses to kill the Big Bad to show he's different from Cleve, not Madlock. Cleve accuses him of ruining the perfect ending to the book.
  • I Have Your Daughter: After rescuing Holly, Cleve takes her to a safe place but won't tell Meechum where, saying he's 'hedging his bets'. Madlock tracks her down, but has two cops pick her up and take Holly to him, stating that he will release her unharmed as Meechum now knows he can snatch her at any time.
  • I'll Kill You!: When Meechum finds out Cleve is the man who killed three policeman and tried to kill him in 1972, Meechum says he won't arrest him, he'll kill him.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: The men following Meechum and Cleve in New York. Justified as they're not trying to hide, and averted for the rest of the movie when tails do a better job.
  • Leave No Witnesses:
    • Defied. Cleve brings Meechum to a former maid who let him into the house where he killed a senator. When Meechum asks why this witness is still alive, the hitman replies, "Because I knew I'd need her some day." She's quickly killed off when other hitman catch up with them in the middle of their conversation.
    • Played straight when Cleve tries to kill everyone during the Nixon Mask robbery, including Meechum, though as all the robbers are masked, it's clearly because he enjoys killing.
  • The Mad Hatter
    Meecham: You're crazy.
    Cleve: Yeah. (beat) It's a crazy world.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: All of Cleve's kills for Kappa Industries, except one where he used a rifle. This causes a problem for Meechum in verifying his story.
  • Morality Pet: Holly, for Meechum as well as Cleve. Meechum almost kills Madlock after Cleve's death, but doesn't because Holly is there.
  • Neck Snap: Cleve kills Thorne by breaking his neck.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: Pearlman stabs the ex-maid in the middle of the sweatshop gunfight, so he doesn't have his gun in his hand when he runs into Cleve.
  • Nixon Mask: The film opens with the robbery of a police evidence room in 1972. The robbers are not only wearing Nixon masks, they're driving a van fitted with loudspeakers broadcasting political slogans for his Presidential re-election.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Cleve is always suggesting this to Meechum, who does eventually admit that he likes him. In the end however Meechum arrests Madlock rather than killing him.
  • Not My Driver: A cab driver in New York says he has to stop off for cigarettes. His behaviour is nervous and when he vanishes from the store, Cleve and Meechum jump out of the cab which explodes moments later. The cab driver is foolish enough to come out and look, so Cleve and Meechum are able to chase him down.
  • Oh, Crap!: Madlock offers protection for Meecham and Holly if he agrees to work for Kappa International. Meechum says he can't protect him from Cleve. "Because you can kill anyone, even a president." Madlock realises then that Cleve is in the house.
  • Parking Garage: The film opens with the Van in Black driven by the robbers through an underground garage, with fades used to make the corridor they're driving down seem endless until they finally drive out into blinding daylight. Cue Title.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Meechum's publisher when a knife-wielding Cleve breaks into her house. Cleve contemptuously refuses the suggestion.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Cleve always picks up his ejected cartridges.
    • Cleve shows Meechum where he buried a rifle used for a murder. When the rifle is said to be useless as evidence because the bore has rusted, Cleve thinks Madlock had the rifle tampered with, which Meecham derides as a conspiracy theory. Turns out Madlock really does have that much influence, when two uniformed policeman pick up Holly and bring her to him.
  • Psycho for Hire: Cleve, and his replacement Pearlman has some of this too, drawing out the killing of the maid for no apparent reason.
  • Rape and Revenge: Implied in why the maid helped Cleve kill Senator Hillard, stating that he was a bad man with a troubled expression.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech
    Madlock: He's a killer. You're helping him. That makes you no better than he is.
    Meecham: Maybe not. But we're both better than you.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After being a self-motivated borderline psychopath for the whole movie, Cleve puts down his gun and lets Madlock kill him, rather than risk Holly's life.
  • Revealing Cover-Up:
    • Meecham decides Cleve's story is BS until someone blows up their cab.
    • Pearlman killing the former maid infuriates Cleve, as she was supposed to corroborate his story. Meecham points to Pearlman, whose body is lying near them. "You asshole, he's your corroboration!"
  • Revealing Injury: The film opens with a masked robbery, during which one of the robbers is shown to have Cigarette Burns on his wrist, and gets stabbed by Meechum. Years later Meechum is approached by Cleve who claims to have been the driver on that robbery. However when Cleve burns his wrist in a display of Macho Masochism, Meechum rips open Cleve's shirt to reveal the knife scar.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The robbers casually reveal the identity of the Dirty Cop who provided them with their information. When he asks to go with them, Cleve shoots him In the Back as he walks to the van, then proceeds to Leave No Witnesses.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Cleve uses this to get Madlock's attention during a charity function. Trouble Entendre follows.
  • Slashed Throat: Cleve killing the taxi driver in the photo booth. Which takes pictures during the act, as Cleve put in some coins beforehand.
  • Tantrum Throwing: Cleve empties several bullets into Pearlman after he kills the maid.
  • Think Nothing of It
    Cleve: Don't mention it...except in the book.
  • Time Passes Montage: The Title Sequence shows how Meechum became a bestselling crime author between 1972 and 1987.
  • Title Drop
    Cleve: You can't let this one get by you, Dennis. Best seller!
  • Unusual Euphemism: Pearlman (obviously a younger version of Cleve) claims he's in 'public relations'.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Inverted for Cleve's first appearance in 1987. Meechum is chasing the diamond smuggler when he's stopped by a passing train. As the train passes, Cleve is revealed calmly watching events.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Meechum is really not happy when he finds his Mysterious Protector gave his daughter and her friends a lift home, convincing her he was a friend because he knew all about their family.
  • Villainous Rescue
    • Cleve shooting the diamond smuggler. During their first meeting he stops Meechum from falling through a hole in the dock.
    • Holly catches one of Madlock's men breaking into the house to steal the novel. He's about to kill her when Cleve intervenes.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Madlock is a beloved philanthropist as far as the public is concerned and does not want Meechum's book to ruin this.
  • We Are Everywhere: Madlock's lawyer claims they have high level contacts in every metropolitan government, so they will destroy Meechum's career if he writes the book.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Cleve claims that the other Nixon mask robbers were murdered for knowing too much, but considering that he'd lied by claiming to be the driver and not the head robber, that could have been a lie.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Averted; Madlock states straight up that Holly is free to leave, as Meechum now knows she can be got at any time. After Madlock uses her as a Human Shield to kill Cleve, he surrenders straight away to Meechum.