- He probably cannot quite touch the work of Scorsese, Kieslowski, or The Coen Brothers- but Michael Mann stakes a strong claim to being the greatest auteur of the 1990s rounded out by 1999’s The Insider.
- There is real fear in The Insider and a scene with a gun, but really for the first time, Mann’s work does not include physical violence. This is the story of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino teaming up with Mann again after Heat) and one of his stories (Mann effectively actually weaves in and out of a few) surrounding former tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand (a revelatory Russell Crowe).
- Shot on location In Kentucky (and the opening is shot in Lebanon). Mann uses his now trademark superwide 2.39: 1 frame, and like a slightly lesser version of Kurosawa before him—brilliantly uses the entire frame as his canvas.
- The story starts on Bergman showing what he can do on the Sheikh Fadlallah story. Mann deftly interlaces the Unabomber in the final act to show this is just part of the extraordinary life Bergman leads.
- Again, no real guns or violence, but Mann’s protagonists are all artists really (whether they are cop, thief, reporter)- and Mann is clearly awed by what Bergman can do with a phone- that’s his weapon. I am awed that Mann could create a film so suspenseful and beautiful with the main characters talking on the phone for half the pivotal scenes.
- This is an achievement in mise-en-scene and using the entire wider frame. Wigand’s meeting with Michael Gambon’s Thomas Sandefur around the 30-minute mark is a standout. Mann shows a dedication to both foreground and background with both heads in the frame—and at the 31-minute mark Mann swings the camera entirely behind Crowe’s head.
- The night golf range scene holds up as almost a standalone silent short film lesson on creating suspense.
- The ensemble does not sprawl quite like Heat, but there are great veteran actors galore here… Bruce McGill gets a big show-off scene, but really it is Christopher Plummer as Michael Wallace that should have been nominated for best supporting actor in 1999. Plummer does the best work of his career here. The scene where he eviscerates the Stephen Tobolowsky character and Gina Gershon character will give you chills.
There is another one in the series not pictured here- a close-up of him at the 125-minute mark with him in the front right of the frame again—with the mural in the back left.
- I hate to pick at a nit, but this is better film with a cohesive musical score. Mann tries to curate little pieces that fit every scene—and mostly it works (if you are recognizing the Lisa Gerrard music it was also used in Gladiator the following year, another Crowe film, which is wild)- but not like a wholistic score would.
- A Must-See film- top five of the year quality
I do think that whenever you do a WKW study you’ll see he certainly also has a claim to being the best director of the decade like the others you mentioned at the beginning, and no, I’m not including In the Mood for Love since it is in an entirely different millennium. I’ve heard many mention Kiarostami in this capacity as well and while I’ve not since any of his work and your own disqualification of Close-Up probably cripples him joining these other directors in the future, in my case it does make him a director worthy of a closer look for me.
Also every time you write “Bergman” on this page I forget you’re talking about Al Pacino and just think of Ingmar haha.
Do you think you’d be willing to call this Crowe’s best performance? It’s a really tough call for me between this and L. A. Confidential so even I’m not sure what to pick.
Heat is my favorite movie hands down, but I think The Insider is not far behind. I even think you can make a compelling case that The Insider doesn’t have any bloat like Heat.
@Zane – Personally, I would go with this being the best Crowe performance. He makes this character ordinary and extremely compelling at the same time. But I do love his rage-filled Bud White. The moment when he breaks the chair during the interrogation (it looks like it just explodes in his hands) is one of my favorite things ever.)))
I hope Collateral gets a MS rating.
[…] The Insider – M. Mann […]
I think this film is a premiere example of the value of auteur cinema.
I avoided this film for years, mainly based on the film’s premise. Many of these “based on a true story dramas” end up being formulatic and predictable. I was wrong, this is one of the most fascinating and suspenseful films I have seen. Going to need a little time to think but out of all the Mann films I have seen only Heat is clearly superior although I think I would put Manhunter and Collateral ahead. I agree with the MS rating.
Gave it a 2nd viewing after being very impressed the 1st time (see post above). Aside from the phenomenal performances all around (but especially Pacino, Crowe, and Plummer) as well as the immaculate compositions the other key to this film being great is in the mood. Despite its considerable length (clocking in at 158 min) the film maintains such high energy througout and with an impending sense of dread reminding me of a Polanski film. The mood never really lets up, especially in regards to the Crowe characters growing paranoia. The narrative is tight, again despite run time, as there are no pointless side plots the stop the narrative at a halt. Instead it just blasts forward and keeps you on edge for pretty much the entire film. Very impressive indeed.