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The Insider [1999] Review: Smart, Sophisticated Filmmaking All Around

A fictionalised account of a real-life event that exposed the tobacco industry malpractice, The Insider is a riveting piece of procedural filmmaking that presents the famous filmmaker in complete control of his craft and benefits immensely from the outstanding performances delivered by its reliable cast. One of the best films from the 1990s and certainly amongst Michael Mann's finest directorial efforts.

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Smart, sophisticated filmmaking all around, The Insider finds director Michael Mann making terrific use of his creative skill set to deliver an interesting, absorbing account of the exposé on Big Tobacco malpractice and benefits a lot from its fascinating set of characters who are expertly rendered on screen by its reliable cast.

A fictionalised version of the real-life story, The Insider follows a TV show producer who detects a big story after meeting with a former employee of a tobacco company who’s bound by confidentiality agreement to not reveal any details of what happens inside the corporation, and covers the challenges they face in their attempt to bring the truth out.

Co-written & directed by Michael Mann (best known for Manhunter & Heat), the film establishes the characters within the opening scenes and then gets into the behind-the-scenes mechanics of investigative journalism. Mann’s direction doesn’t allow the plot to sway far from its path yet the personal life storyline feels drawn out compared to the rest of the events.

The characters retain our interest from beginning to end. They are brilliantly scripted and exhibit well-rounded arcs which makes it really easy for the viewers to invest in their journey. The technical execution is top-notch, as expected in a Michael Mann film but the music at times seems at odds with the depicted events while on other occasions, it manages to amplify the scene’s effectiveness by quite an extent.

However, the most vital contribution comes from the quality ensemble of Russell Crowe, Al Pacino & Christopher Plummer, for the trio deliver outstanding performances in their respective roles and bring their real-life characters to life with such panache that it’s no less than a highlight. Everything about Crowe’s input is impressive but Pacino is on a whole another level whenever he gets into the flow.

On an overall scale, The Insider does take liberties with its subject matter for dramatic purposes but it keeps the story’s essence entirely intact. An utterly riveting example of procedural filmmaking made possible by polished direction, deft writing, adept camerawork & stellar performances, The Insider remains one of Michael Mann’s finest directorial efforts and continues to rank amongst the best examples of its genre. Thoroughly recommended.


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