Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Insider - "Wipe That Smirk Off Your Face!"

The Scene: "WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE!" from The Insider (1999).

The Setup: Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a high-profile would-be whistleblower for big-tobacco giant Brown & Williamson, is bound by the terms of a corporate confidentiality agreement, forbidding him from disclosing to 60 Minutes the lurid truth about big tobacco, which he feels morally compelled to disclose. In hopes of freeing him from that agreement, 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergmann (Al Pacino) arranges for Wigand to testify in court proceedings instituted by the State of Mississippi against big tobacco, and Wigand, after deep soul searching,arrives amid much commotion to give a sworn deposition which will air big tobacco's dirty laundry in the public domain (and we are not talking about skid-marked underpants here, folks).

Incisive Commentary: Jeffery Wigand sits in a stark hall filled with suits, his hand raised, swearing under oath in the State of Mississippi to tell the whole truth. No sooner has his deposition begun than a lawyer for big tobacco (Wings Hauser) objects to the questioning, stands, and commands Wigand to remain silent, in accordance with his confidentiality agreement and in accordance with a restraining order that has been entered against him in a Kentucky court, the violation of which could send him to jail upon his return to Kentucky. And it is in this moment that the full weight of Wigand's journey becomes apparent. Jeffrey Wigand's journey from corporate executive to corporate target was a solitary one. Though he met an ally or two along in the way, it is he who lost his job and his house, he whose life was threatened time and again by unknown persons, and he whose wife, immediately prior to this scene, informed him that she was leaving (presumably for his moral renaissance and not for his unfortunate taste in eyewear, a far more understandable reason). Even the ally he did find in Lowell Bergmann operated in shadows, helping only covertly as his own employer bowed to the might of big tobacco. Jeffrey Wigand is utterly alone, while big tobacco wields its sword, as Wigand puts it, "with impunity." And he sits facing a barrage of commands from this big tobacco minion who will once again intimidate Jeffrey Wigand into silence. Enter one Ron Motley, Esq. (Bruce McGill), a lead attorney in Mississippi's case against big tobacco and Wigand's deposer. Upon hearing opposing counsel's admonition, "That means you don't talk!" Motley wheels on him, and mockingly, yet with restraint, informs him that "This is the sovereign State of Mississippi" and that big tobacco "doesn't get to instruct anything around here." Opposing counsel shrugs off the remarks with a smug grin, until Motley explodes, "WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE!" The average viewer, at this point, (1) shits himself and (2) realizes that finally, in this moment, Jeffrey Wigand is not alone. Motley turns back to Wigand and gently asks him to continue, and Wigand, with all obstacles crashed aside by the steamroller that is Ron Motley, continues. Wigand sees, for the first time, someone else stand up to big tobacco and win, and his journey begins to make more sense.

Cheese Factor: 0/10: Lawyer/courtroom scenes are notorious for over-the top performances (see A Few Good Men, And Justice for All, etc.) but this one is an exception. McGill's performance as Ron Motley is so believable, that you almost get the feeling that when the cameras stopped rolling he walked over to Wings Hauser and beat him with the stenographer's typewriter.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Goodfellas - Bruce's Folly

The Scene: For our inaugural scene, we have selected the brutal and cathartic pistol-whipping Henry Hill unloads upon Bruce in Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas (1990). [The fantastic trailer found here.]

The Setup: In the middle of a shakedown, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a
fast-rising gangster in the 1970's mafia, receives a frantic call from his new girlfriend, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), informing him that her neighbor, an overprivileged and unfortunately naïve socialite named Bruce (Mark Evan Jacobs) sexually assaulted her.

It can be seen here, starting at about the 2:00 mark.

Incisive Commentary: A viewer's pupils will begin to dilate as soon as Henry drops the phone; given Henry's nature and the nature of the world around him, there is no mistaking that ol' Bruce has made a terrible mistake, and he is about to pay for it dearly. Upon arrival at Karen's house, Henry tucks a .38 revolver into his waistband and strides quickly and deliberately across the street and up Bruce's driveway, where Bruce stands with his two brothers looking as menacing as humanly possible in feathered hair. Bruce's "You want something, Fucko?" is answered, with nary a word, by the most vicious pistol-whipping that a man wearing pastel has ever received, and Bruce's impotent brothers can only look on in horror. "You touch her again, you're DEAD!" shrieks Ray Liotta's Hill at his
psychotic best, just before one final blow to Bruce's head with the revolver. This scene succeeded where the "greaser"/"soc" rumble failed in the Outsiders (fear not, Mr. Coppola, your work will be well represented herein), in that the defeat of the antagonist in the scene is complete and total. Henry Hill represents the everyman, a blue collar man in Bruce's white collar world, who refuses to be intimidated by the powers-that-be, and who makes his own way, like the mafia itself in the movie, by brute force and few words. Hill is a man who is therefore not bound by the same rules as the rest of us, and his inner beast is allowed to roam free, with harsh consequences for those who cross his path, and a ringing catharsis for viewers on his side. It is worth a mention that before Bruce's education, Henry stops to evaluate whether Karen is all right. This is his human nature juxtaposed rather starkly with the beast inside, an internal tug of war that Henry experiences throughout the movie.

Cheese Factor: 0/10 (say what you will about the red leather attire, but Ray Liotta's super-hip 1970's gangster garb is aces in my book, Jack)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Our Mission

If life is just a series of moments, then movies are really just a collection of scenes. It is a very rare thing to have a truly great movie scene. Every writer, director and actor aspires to a legendary, timeless movie scene. We know all the classics: Bogie and Claude Rains beginning a beautiful friendship, Brando chastizing his brother in the back of a car, DeNiro asking if we are talking to him.

But somewhere between the pantheon of legendary movie scenes, and the pedestrian, garden variety scenes that take place in most movies, lie the scenes you will find here. They may not be the most oft-quoted, and may not be the most uplifting. But they are ones that somehow jostled us out of our complacent, passive moviegoing experience.

Yet for all the chair-shifting they cause, these scenes also deepen our immersion into films, further intensifying the altered state to which a great film can bring us.

These can hit us on a number of levels: they can be surprising, touching, dramatic, hilarious, or "other." We are going to start slowly, with some of our favorites, and then explore the outer reaches of film.

Any of these great scenes should be seen in context. It's one thing to see the clip of "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," but when seen within the framework the film intended, the scene packs so much more power.

So our format (for the time being anyway) will consist of:

The Scene in question

The Setup that puts the scene in its proper context

Incisive Commentary, which tells why each scene is so fucking great.

And the Cheese Factor, which acknowledges that our ironic detachment often gets the best of us when we get drawn into an entertaining film.

You may know some of these, and you may not. Hopefully we will encourage you to see each of these films if you haven't already. And we hopefully won't ruin them for you.

We're gonna try this out and see how it works. Hope you'll stick around and leave a note.