The Insider (1999)

insider

Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Gambon, Hallie Eisenberg (aka the Pepsi Girl)

Director: Michael Mann

Summary: A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a 60 Minutes expose on Big Tobacco

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Crowe), Adapted Screenplay, Sound, Cinematography, Film Editing

Movies based on real events can often be either too dry or too sensationalized, but The Insider finds the perfect balance and is an extraordinarily compelling film. I liked both the leads a lot-Crowe ably navigates a role that combines intense paranoia, anger, intelligence, coldness and aloofness, and it’s one of the last times Pacino actually tried in a movie. Also, Plummer (as Mike Wallace) is terrific and I love his characterization in general since I was never really a fan of Wallace in general.

I loved the screenplay for a number of reasons. First, it’s a great thriller, especially with the paranoia that’s pervasive throughout the first half (the scene at the driving range being my favorite, with perfect pacing, editing and cinematography). Second, it’s very dedicated to historical accuracy, something I think is important in a movie with explosive allegations and negative characterizations about people when the events happened just four years before the movie came out. Third, in a different telling of this story, we might get more broad and obvious characterizations, but here we get much richer portraits, like with Crowe’s character, who is clearly heroic by putting everything on the line for the right cause, but is also unpersonable, a little self-righteous and prone to anger.

The other thing that stood out to me was the cinematography and editing, which felt very “modern” (for better or worse). Lots of rapid-fire cuts, heavy use of steadicam, off-kilter close-ups, and switching the focus from the foreground to the background (or vice versa) within the same shot-it certainly looks distinctive. I think it gives a dynamic feel to the movie, and in the context of a thriller like this, it works well.

Making a compelling, true-to-real-life-events thriller with themes about monied interests and media influence that are more relevant today than ever is an incredibly difficult task, yet The Insider somehow gets everything right. This was the high point for Michael Mann’s career, a bit of a swan song for Pacino, and a movie that further established Crowe as maybe the top actor for the time period.

Rating: A-

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