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Overstreet

The Insider or Michael Clayton?

  

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An out-of-the-blue post on my Facebook page today:

I can't believe you think The Insider is better than Michael Clayton. *No* way. The Insider, for all its virtues, is sloppy and an hour too long.

As odd as it may sound, I think Michael Clayton is the kind of thing Flannery O'Connor might be writing if, you know, she was alive and wrote thrillers.

I blinked, wondering why this had suddenly come up. I have a vague memory of somebody comparing them a long time ago.

Whatever the case, to me there's no contest at all. One film is superior in just about every way to the other, in my estimation. But perhaps I'm on my own in thinking so.

So I'm curious... now that both films have been around for a while, which one is, for you, more impressive and worth revisiting? And if you feel moved to say why, please do.

TEAM A: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Michael Gambon, Diane Venora

TEAM B: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sean Cullen, Sydney Pollack

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Been years since I've watched either of these. Both are solid films, but the clincher for me is thinking about which film has more weaknesses rather than which has more strengths. Michael Clayton has some weaknesses, The Insider does not. However, if I had to choose one to watch tonight, I might go with Michael Clayton, which is 38 minutes shorter than The Insider.

Funny that I just wrote that, after years of telling people that length is no sin, as long as a movie is compelling. The Insider is compelling; Michael Clayton may be hurt a little bit because it's not longer. But if I have to watch one? That 38-minute difference looms large these days.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Well, Tom Wilkinson is interesting, although his character feels the most contrived of any character in Michael Clayton. Otherwise The Insider wins.

What pushes Michael Clayton over for me is the mystical/supernatural tones it has, the score, and the final 4 minute static shot of Clooney in the cab.

If it could be edited down to just the horse and the cab ride...


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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Well, Tom Wilkinson is interesting, although his character feels the most contrived of any character in Michael Clayton.

Hmmm, I found his character un-contrived and compelling: I thought he was pretty believeable as a manic-depressive having a 6th-decade moral/identity crisis.

I love the father-son and brother to brother dynamics at work in Michael Clayton. The only weakness in this film for me is the

tired cliche of the hidden tape recorder

used in the final showdown scene. This movie is a favorite of mine.

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I like intensity. I'd definitely go with The Insider. They're both good, but Michael Clayton lacks passion.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Link to our thread on Michael Clayton (2007). We don't seem to have a thread on The Insider (1999), but it does get mentioned two or three times in our thread on 'Michael Mann: Closet Believer?' (Feb 2006 - Mar 2011).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I like both just fine and don't feel the need to insist that one is better than the other. I voted for THE INSIDER because I think Mann's body of work is one of the most interesting in recent American cinema.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I've yet to find a Michael Mann film I can get completely behind, but I love both of Tony Gilroy's features. Weird.

There's a difference between "get completely behind" and "most interesting." Of Gilroy, I've only seen MICHAEL CLAYTON and it is a wonderful debut.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Here's what I finally got around to replying:

Now remember, I'm just sharing my experience with the films. I've seen MICHAEL CLAYTON twice (trying to appreciate it the second time, and liking it even less), and I've seen THE INSIDER close to ten times, finding new things to love about it each time.

And I have nothing against Tony Gilroy: I really, really enjoyed DUPLICITY for its old fashioned banter and playfulness all the way through.

Few things disappoint me in a movie than a climax that amounts to "#$%& you, evil bad villain, I beat you!" But the final confrontation between Clooney's and Swinton's characters in MICHAEL CLAYTON is just that, a scene that broke what little interest I had left in the film.

MICHAEL CLAYTON reaches for something greater at several points in the movie, but then leaves them behind. The fairy tale, for example: It brings a mystical flair to the proceedings, but it turns out that the book's real function in the plot is just to introduce a coincidental clue to catching the bad guys.

And then the fairy tale fades from the film. Stuff like that drives me nuts.

A lot of people were impressed with Wilkinson; I just thought it was a showy, over-the-top performance.

By contrast, THE INSIDER moves me from beginning to end, with my favorite Russell Crowe performance by far, one of the few Pacino performances that develops a completely convincing character to me, a nuanced and affecting performance by Christopher Plummer (who makes Wallace sympathetic, against all odds, and delivers a truly great line about "infamy"), and yet the movie is almost stolen in a sensational bit part played by Wings Hauser.

The cinematography, especially Mann's composition, enthralls me.

The soundtrack gives the film so much spirit; I listen to it all the time as I'm writing - one of my all time favorites.

And there's never a "@#$% you, evil bad villain, I beat you!" moment.

Victories are tremendously costly, and they don't carry a rush of superiority, but rather a deep sense of sadness at how broken things have become. Jeffrey Wigand's sense of loss and helplessness as he is intimidated, threatened, robbed, and humiliated rings so true, even more so today, as "the 99%" protest in futility against powers that make democracy look like a joke, and television "news" amounts to little more than entertainment skewed by the corporations who use it to promote themselves and conceal their wrongdoing.

I really love THE INSIDER, and when I look at the crop of films that it was up against at the Oscars that year, I just shake my head. I think that was the year I truly gave up hoping to see any good things happen there. And when good things do happen at the Oscars, I tend to assume that they happen for the wrong reasons.

That's all. Of course, as per usual, people are impressed and moved by different things in works of art, so this is no way an attempt to say "I'm right." Just saying that this is my experience of two very different films.

Then I added,

Oh, and it also has the finest usage of Gustavo Santaolalla's "Iguazu" ever in a film, in my opinion... and it used the piece before it became one of the most popular soundtracking pieces ever recorded.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Overstreet wrote:

: And there's never a "@#$% you, evil bad villain, I beat you!" moment.

FWIW, I wouldn't make any sort of call based on the presence or absence of this trope -- especially when it's as satisfying and well-done as it was in Michael Clayton.

The problem with Michael Clayton is that the plot twists required to GET us to that point are rather hokey.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Here's what I finally got around to replying:

By contrast, THE INSIDER moves me from beginning to end, with my favorite Russell Crowe performance by far, one of the few Pacino performances that develops a completely convincing character to me, a nuanced and affecting performance by Christopher Plummer (who makes Wallace sympathetic, against all odds, and delivers a truly great line about "infamy"), and yet the movie is almost stolen in a sensational bit part played by Wings Hauser.

I'm wondering if you meant Bruce McGill instead of Wings Hauser? Hauser definitely makes an impression when confronting Russell Crowe during the Mississippi court house scene, but then Bruce McGill instantly destroys Hauser's smarmy cocksuredness with his with his own brand of "Southern justice."

Tobacco Lawyer (Hauser): Dr. Wigand, I am instructing you not to answer that question in accordance to the terms of the contractual obligations undertaken by you not to disclose any information about your work at the Brown and Williamson tobacco company, and in accordance with the force and effect of the temporary restraining order that has been entered against you by the court in the state of Kentucky. That means you don't talk! Mr. Motley we have rights here.

Ron Motley (McGill): Boy, you got rights... and lefts. Ups and downs and middles. So what? You don't get to instruct anything around here! This is not North Carolina, not South Carolina, nor Kentucky! This is the sovereign state of Mississippi's proceedings. Wipe that smirk off your face! Dr. Wigand's deposition will be part of this record! And I'm gonna take my witness' testimony whether the hell you like it or not!

That, "Wipe that smirk off your face!" moment really got my attention. And to think that up until this point I'd only remembered McGill as D-Day from Animal House.

I also voted The Insider. That's a film I like to watch again and again just to analyze how this mammoth story got pared down to the essentials points, without feeling as though we are being lectured to about the "evils of smoking". Michael Clayton, while being a terrific thriller with some fine performances, doesn't have me itching to return to it to peel back the layers... mainly because there aren't that many layers there to peel.

If you're interested, here's a link to Marie Brenner's Vanity Fair piece The Man Who Knew Too Much, on which The Insider is based. It is fascinating to read this article and see how much made it to the film.


Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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I'm wondering if you meant Bruce McGill instead of Wings Hauser?

Good grief... what's wrong with me? You are correct! Thanks!

I always advise people to read what I meant, not what I wrote. :)

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Ah, that makes sense. I've only seen the film once, a dozen years ago, and that Bruce McGill moment still stands out in my memory. Whereas the words "Wings Hauser" bring absolutely nothing to mind: no face, no scene, no moment, no nothing.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I thought [Tom Wilkinson] was pretty believeable as a manic-depressive having a 6th-decade moral/identity crisis.

Ah! Perhaps I need to think in more clinical terms.


Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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Lots of good things said here already. I don't see the point of pitting these two in particular against each other, but for me it's THE INSIDER hands down, every time. Per Siskel's maxim, I've never once felt the need to revisit MICHAEL CLAYTON, but I watch THE INSIDER at least once a year. On my last viewing in August, it finally moved from my top 20 into my top 10 all time list.

And there's never a "@#$% you, evil bad villain, I beat you!" moment.

No, but the combo of the very last shot slowing down to the Massive Attack song could be read in that light. I don't subscribe to it - I think Mann was going for something more nuanced than "Lowell the Badass Walking Into History" - but I was struck anew on my last viewing by how easily it could be interpreted that way.

Edited by N.W. Douglas

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