My review of Michael Winterbottom's new film The Killer Inside Me is up on the City Arts Blog today and I wanted to further examine it next to Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, to which it has been widely compared.
The biggest difference I can find is the polar editing choices made in the films. While Winterbottom uses fast cuts to the point of distraction, Noé cuts as little as he can, trying to give the appearance of long, continuous shots wherever possible. For me this deflects a criticism I had of The Killer Inside Me: when Winterbottom lingers on Lou Ford's brutality towards women, it stands out. While the infamous 9 minute long rape of Monica Bellucci is excruciating, one can argue that Noé is following the internal logic of his own film, where all takes are extended. In actuality, if not in our emotional memory, Noé spends equal time on a scene of violence as he does on a sequence of his characters' everyday discussion.
And most of those discussions touch on anal sex, which is key to his project. I found the frequency of the comments somewhat distracting but the point is clear: violation is always on the minds of the "regular" guys, not just the sadistic rapist. With The Killer Inside Me, it is simpler to watch and say, "well, these horrifying beatings are just the actions of a psychopath." This mental distinction (and the fact that Casey Affleck is still Ben's little brother) made it much easier for me to get to sleep.
On top of the superior editing choices, Irreversible also has an advantage over The Killer Inside Me in cinematography. The latter has a pleasant enough small-town-Texas-in-the-50's look but Noé is audacious enough to use a color palette from hell. Many reviewers argued that the redness was overdone (and it probably wasn't politically correct to start off all the hell/devil/tunnel metaphors in a gay bondage club called Rectum) but I thought the look fit the subject at hand. When the story unwinds backwards to the beginning and spring greens and pinks begin to appear, the colors are as refreshing as they've ever been.