An on-the-spot impression left from Michael Mann’s The Insider doesn’t leave it out to be my favourite of Mann’s films (he’s done many which I find to be quite superior) but knowing what Mann is an expert with, it is still a strong footing from the great filmmaker. While it definitely contains touches that would indicate weaknesses that are strange coming from Michael Mann, there are many elements to The Insider indicative of strength, for what he leaves behind is a truly riveting piece of work as can always be expected from the great filmmaker’s very best work. It flops a little bit then and there, but it’s strong enough to warrant a watch or two.
Considering what Michael Mann is best known for, The Insider lacks the action that one would remember from some of his best work whether it be either Heat or Thief. In spite of Mann’s unique visions for such sequences, where The Insider still finds its strengths arises from how taut the suspense is from start to finish. If there was something that kept his films intriguing, it was his manner to building the tension within various situations, whether they be big or small, and then exerting some of the very most pressure possible – for it always left an exciting feeling for what were to happen next. Even with its limitations, The Insider makes for something truly compelling.
Although The Insider is based on a true story, there is a disclaimer noting that this piece has had specific events fictionalized in order to garner more of a dramatic effect, Michael Mann still manages to work around the moments of obvious dramatization in order to have it weave seamlessly to create an overall fascinating piece. This is yet another aspect to which I have very highly admired about watching a film directed by Michael Mann, as he knows how to incite the drama at the very right moments in order to keep the intrigue alongside the real events building up. It would be easy for any filmmaker to fictionalize certain moments for sentimental purposes, but Michael Mann does the exact opposite of that and instead creates a piece recognizing of the tone which it tries to set in order to tell such a story, and churns out a riveting work as a final result.
What I’ve always admired about Michael Mann is how he is able to get such nuanced performances from his leading actors. Reuniting with Al Pacino after Heat, this time together with Russell Crowe (in what might possibly be his best performance), there’s a heightened emotional arc formed from how Crowe’s actions result in consequences on either side – if he chooses to tell the truth about Big Tobacco’s effects on its consumers, he is doing the right thing by opening other eyes to how businesses corrupt the individual mind, but this will end up costing him his job and he also faces multiple death threats in regards to his actions. The manner to which Michael Mann works around these character arcs makes for more emotional tension, creating a strong piece all around.
For how much I find myself loving about The Insider, elements also come in which I don’t particularly love. One of these flaws to which I find myself unable to get past is the excessive running time. Although not nearly as long as Heat, a film which is near three hours in its running time, specific moments in The Insider certainly end up making the experience feel longer than it really is on some level. This is a general problem I have with films penned by Eric Roth in one way or another, for oftentimes they seem to run way too long in terms of their length without being able to warrant it. For all its great moments, The Insider seems to include subplots which add little to the overall story and thus make the film drag at times. One such subplot I am not particularly a fan of comes in regards to Jeffrey Wigand’s relationship with his family, which never seemed convincing because it was rarely ever explored.
It may not be one of my favourites from Michael Mann, but that does not say much when he is a consistent filmmaker in regards to how compelling his work truly is. The Insider is a gripping piece of work that boasts great performances from Al Pacino and Russell Crowe within the leads, though at times it does suffer the typical clichés that run through the standard Hollywood biopic. Moments in The Insider certainly do show off the excessive length in which it suffers, but enough of it runs smoothly to keep the audience’s attention focused on where it should be. But while I am aware that Heat was longer, I feel as if with Heat, Michael Mann was able to explore the dynamics forming all of his characters perfectly well and thus it earns its near three hour duration.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Directed by Michael Mann
Screenplay by Michael Mann, Eric Roth, from The Man Who Knew Too Much by Marie Brenner
Produced by Michael Mann, Pieter Jan Brugge
Starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse
Release Year: 1999
Running Time: 157 minutes