My apologies for not being so quick on the draw for this week's post, since it does take a considerable amount of time to go through a moderately lengthed film twice. Heading up on one whose length is particularly substantial is understandably quite an ordeal to take up, particularly since it wasn't the film I had planned on taking on this week. Originally I believed that I would be taking apart "Serenity", Joss Whedon's feature directorial debut, in accordance with this week's release of "Cabin in the Woods". I decided instead to go for something a little more appropriate for what's been going on in the world this week.
Michael Mann's 1999 thriller "The Insider" obviously doesn't pair up with any of this week's releases, unless there's some "Three Stooges" cameo I don't know about. It does however match up with Sunday's news of the death of journalist Mike Wallace, whose character was portrayed by Christopher Plummer in Michael Mann's flick. Quite obviously, I never planned to focus specifically on Wallace's character, however brilliantly portrayed he may be. As a matter of fact, he's most deeply signified in just one shot of my list. I knew, as always, I had to be a great deal more than just a focus device on faces.
Of course, faces and bodies do mean a great deal in the world of Michael Mann's cinema. He is very focused on his characters, and what he's meant to say about them. You don't get any massive landscape vistas, or at least no relevant ones without having some attachment to a character. The cinematography is that which serves the needs of the production, but that's not to say it's totally unextraordinary. While single frames are hard to come by, the film does build together shots lyrically or aesthetically composed. It took some time to pick apart ten that rose above the pack as individuals, but they do have a great deal to say about the film
10. Man of Industry
First up is a focus on somebody who isn't really all that much of a character in the scheme of our narrative, but the backdrop he's given certainly says something otherwise. Lights, cranes, and electricity poles shooting up over a sunset riddled sky, it's juxtaposed against a call from Jeffrey Wigand, who has taken quite a fall from grace. He's gone from being a top executive in a tobacco industry to being a schmuck-like school teacher, relying on the pay phone. So how does this man in the picture, whose name sadly escapes me, fit into it? Jeffrey has given himself up to powers greater than himself, and he has no chance at reaching those heights ever again. It subtly shows how far you can fall for doing the right thing.
9. And Your Enemies Closer
A great deal of time later, we get another shot that says so much of a similar thing, but this time it's not so gorgeous or subtle, but straight up imposing. Wigand has gone into exile, incapable of heading out towards the unfamiliar, which inevitably brings him to that hotel room across the street from his former employer, Brown & Williamson. But all the lights are dark except one, which we'll later learn is the legal department, but we don't need that caveat of knowledge to know that there's some massive scheming going on, and Wigand can only watch as it happens. His hand is played. He has no more power.
8. Man on the Street
There are really two strong narratives going on in this film, one involving Russell Crowe's Jeffrey Wigand, and the other detailing Al Pacino's Lowell Bergman. Saddle the guy with second if you like, but the man gives a fantastically controlled performance in a late career that's been very much of diminishing returns. The man still has that spark, if you ask me. But anyways, yes, the shot. This may be the most individualist shot that we get to define Bergman. On a crucial avenue in the film that puts the pressure on his morals, he has to question what he does business for. Does he do it for fame? Money? No. He does it for the world that he serves, and throughout the film he never once abandons that moral compass. What Wigand has to struggle in himself to find, Bergman comes upon naturally, but that's not to say he doesn't have to fight for it.
7. Truth Box
"The Insider" is about "60 Minutes", something that's kind of established at the offset of the film, but there's no denying the smallness of the proceedings. As important as this very well may be, it is just one story in the scheme of several stories that the show worked to get on the air. What's most important is what went down behind the show, but the show itself is given its moment of supreme importance, specifically to Wigand. The characters have been fighting up to this point to make this meeting happen, and from here out they'll be fighting to make sure that it wasn't for nothing. But to ignore that for a moment, this shot simultaneously immortalizes Wigand's actions on television, but later fades to his face, so as to show that it's not just what he represents, but who he is that is important. The rest of the world won't see that, but we do.
6. Stars Faint at Night
I always strive to find at least one "what the hell are we looking at?" shot in a film, and there wasn't much soul searching to be done to land on this particular one. After Wigand has been imposed upon by his former employers to sign a stricter confidentiality agreement, and he says no subsequently, we cut very quickly to this shot that I always assume is the night sky. But it's strange. It's almost this weird painted on sky, like some child's ceiling. Ironically enough, it is the field for a game of sorts: golf. Wigand has a standoff with an imposing man meant to freak him out into paranoia. Even the entrance of this strange cart over the horizon of stars invokes confusion, and this film is very good at tapping that pressure point.
5. You Talk. I Listen.
And to those of clamoring for that all too important introspective on Mike Wallace, here it is. Not quite what you were expecting? Well I'm not exactly shooting for a Pulitzer, now am I? But this really does establish pretty early on a couple of things, loosely speaking is the sort of prestige that goes towards Mike Wallace, and just barely seeing him does give him that presence in the interview stage. But it's more about establishing a relationship between him and Bergman, which is very much one of mutual respect. Bergman is the man who works so specifically on finding the stories, and Wallace is the one who instigates the conversation. Wallace talks. Bergman listens. Their jobs in a nutshell, but also the wonderful relationship.
4. Glass Jar
Amongst the very first glimpses we get of Jeffrey Wigand is this tightly held and heavily claustrophobic following shot that puts us very close to his headspace. The man is, from the very first moment of the film, walking on a very thin tightrope. Things are indeed only going to get worst for him, but this is still kind of a pretty difficult moment. You could say that this shot is only to attach significance to him for the sake of the audience. I refuse to be that naive, and in fact it seems to inform that, at this moment, Wigand is not at all certain if he's even going to walk out of that building alive. He has information that people would kill to keep quiet.
3. Bright Lit Corner
Honestly, I don't remember specifically when in the film this shot happens, but I think you could make a case for it to pop up just about anywhere at all. There are plenty of shots like this, of Wigand sitting down as the world collapses around him. We already had a shot that had the camera itself invoke that sense, if you recall #9. This one is very much a showcase of lighting, as most of the room is covered in darkness, and it seems like that presence is the most powerful in this scene. That is the dominant force, and Wigand is huddling up in his corner, constantly clinging to the light, even though the darkness is easier. It states harshly, his character's predicament, but his struggle to live for his morals.
2. On Display
Here's one last shot for all you paranoia nuts out there, and it's probably the only one that gives showcase towards Diane Verona's Liane Wigand. She happens to have her own deeply significant arc in the film that is absolutely not one to be ignored. Hell, it offered some of the best "boxed in" shots of the film, and this one stuck out pretty damn fervently. Why? Because just as Jeffrey Wigand is putting himself on display, pretty much with a bulls eye on his forehead, he's also risking his family, and Liane simply cannot escape that. The fact that there's a security detail on hand is no help, and it only confirms that people are always watching. There is no privacy in the world of national television.
1. Caught in the Ocean
Like I said before, after watching the film three damn times over the course of one week, my admiration for Russell Crowe's performance is inevitably eclipsed by Al Pacino, who stands up most on returned viewings. It takes a while to notice, because Bergman too is somebody who is scarcely noticed in the world of his industry. Here, he too has been banished, but not broken. He's been diminished to a speck, wandering desperately out in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight, looking for the right avenue. That's the way he very much remains at the end of the film, and even the start of the film. For my money, this shot takes it every time. For its easily powerful nature, and for what it means.
So, what do you think of my picks, and what are yours? Comment below!
HINT FOR NEXT WEEK'S (TENTATIVE) FILM: A Doc Can Dance.