Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Insider

1999, US, directed by Michael Mann

The Insider is the best marriage to date between a strong storyline and Michael Mann's striking visual imagination. By Hollywood standards, Mann is an authentic visual artist, here employing a cool, glistening palate (greys, blues, overcast skies and rain), and elegantly composed shots with the occasional, startling flash of colour (his use of music, too, is unsettling and often so insistent that it becomes a character in its own right). It's no great surprise to see Mann take on, once again, a claustrophobic, male world, telling the interwoven stories of malfeasance in the tobacco industry and the network television attempt to expose that malfeasance (the script is exceptional, expertly shifting the emphasis between storylines without creating distractions). Hollywood loves the kind of tale wherein big corporations get their comeuppance (Erin Brockovich, North Country, A Civil Action), but The Insider is far more complex, dealing in shades of grey and probing as insistently at the compromises of network television news (and particularly 60 Minutes, which still likes to think of itself as a serious news outlet, but which is ill-equipped to tell this particular tale, given CBS's own business interests) as it does at the evils of Big Tobacco. Russell Crowe and Al Pacino (as, respectively, a tobacco whistle-blower and a 60 Minutes producer) are both exceptional; in acting terms, Crowe gets the showier role, and his transformation after the hulking cop of LA Confidential is arresting. The supporting cast, too, is generally strong: Christopher Plummer channels Mike Wallace (who comes off as hypocritical opportunist) to eerie effect, while Bruce McGill and Colm Feore have fun playing that rare thing, the good lawyer. By contrast, the female roles - as so often in Mann's films - are of minimal interest; Gina Gershon has an especially thankless role as a bitchy CBS attorney.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States