The Insider (1999)

*. I was looking forward to this one. It had received a lot of critical accolades, and I’m a fan of the heroic-journos genre. But then the credits began to roll and we get to the part where it says it was co-written and directed by Michael Mann . . .
*. It’s not that I really dislike Mann’s work. It’s more that I think he’s one of the most overrated directors going. Time and again I’ve been directed to examples of his genius only to come away shaking my head. What do people see in him?
*. As for this movie, like I say, I’m a fan of the genre. The intrepid reporters who uncover a scandal/conspiracy and who have to fight the establishment in order to reveal the Truth to the People. It’s a story that’s worked from All the President’s Men to Spotlight. You really can’t go wrong with it.
*. Unless, like this movie, you stretch things out to an appalling 2 hours and 37 minutes. I have nothing against long, or even slow-moving movies. But a full hour should have been chopped from this one. The pacing is leaden. What’s with all the operatic musical interludes? Why does Mann feel the need to underline how important a particular moment is by stretching it out interminably? That’s just not efficient or effective filmmaking.
*. The real genre being worked here, I think, is that of award bait. This is why it’s so damn long and why everything (the script, the performances, the music, the direction) is so damn serious.

*. You know you’re watching award bait when every big scene is telegraphed far in advance, with our cast delivering set-piece speeches, or the director presenting set-piece displays of his art that have the look of being looked at. Like the bit at the driving range, for example, which isn’t suspenseful or unnerving at all precisely because it’s presented in such an obvious look-at-me kind of way. And don’t even get me started with Wigand’s crisis of conscience as he stares alone out at the ocean (or the Gulf, as the case may be).
*. Despite feeling so much like a shop-window display, I didn’t think there was much worth looking at here. Pacino does his usual thing. I thought Russell Crowe’s performance affected. Christopher Plummer is a good actor but he’s totally miscast here as Mike Wallace. I didn’t buy him for a second in the part.
*. There isn’t even a strong central narrative driving things along. At the end the movie just loses interest in Wigand completely. He gets an approving look from his daughter and that’s it. The people watching 60 Minutes are us, the People, and we are the real winners in this battle for the soul of America. This is so even if we’re not watching, or are bored with what’s going on. A good point, but one that comes far too late to be fully appreciated.

26 thoughts on “The Insider (1999)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Michael Mann is a genius, and pretty much all of his films are good. Miami Vice is a masterpiece. Really dig the production design in this one, and some great music choices as always. But also brave to make a film that takes on Big Tobacco, and reveals the ‘delivery process’ that each cigarette is. I found this film to be engrossing and relevant to today’s world. Maybe you should take a long hard look at the ocean, in the way that everyone does in Mann’s filmography.

    1. Alex Good

      I can only imagine how much Miami Vice meant to you as a kid growing up in Glasgow . . .

      I don’t think Mann has ever failed to disappoint me. I guess Manhunter wasn’t bad.

  2. Over-The-Shoulder

    I do like Michael Mann, and I do like journalist-uncovering-a-scandal films, but I don’t like ones that take themselves too seriously. Is that the case with The Insider? And I agree, 2 hours 37 minutes is appalling.

    1. Alex Good

      Pacino and Crowe both take themselves seriously too (as they have a habit of doing). There’s a general problem with the over-earnestness of these movies and Mann combined with these actors push it even further. I thought it was oversold, but that’s Mann’s style.

  3. tensecondsfromnow

    I was just saying on my site that Manhunter may be my favourite Michael Mann film…


    I think he’s one of the most overrated directors going. Time and again I’ve been directed to examples of his genius only to come away shaking my head. What do people see in him?

    Which Alex am I speaking to now?

    1. Alex Good

      He’s overrated.
      Manhunter is my favourite film of his.
      There’s no contradiction there.
      Digging a little deeper, it’s his most praised movies, like Thief and Heat and this one, that I am most disappointed with. Manhunter is a pulpier piece that I thought was decent.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Your favourite film by this overrated director? If you can’t dig Thief, you need your software rebooted, great film. I’ll plug you into the mains and recallibrate the wiring, seems like it’s gone a bit askew. I’ll wipe the corrupted knowledge, it was spitting out rubbish about King John last week, clearly not functioning correctly.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Like all great critics, I think outside the box. I have a hunch Mann might have been better off just directing trashy stuff instead of taking himself seriously.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        And while I’m at it, ‘like all great critics, I think outside the box’? This from the man who claimed that I was ‘self-aggrandising’? At least I can watch grown up movies and not rattle on about apes and dinosaurs. I could get some informed film commentary in the sandpit of the local kindergarten! Utter dribblings!

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Did I call you self-aggrandizing? Sounds like something I’d say, but I don’t remember.

        Yes, grown-up movies. Like Thunder Force. *sigh*

      5. Alex Good Post author

        Too late to see it now. That movie came out a week ago.
        I don’t recall the self-aggrandizing line, but sounds like pure gold.

      6. tensecondsfromnow

        I’m not running this blog on your timetable, Bunty. You’ll take what I give you and like it. Got it? Not my fault you can’t find your way round Michael Mann with a map and compass…

      1. fragglerocking

        Haven’t read the book. I don’t mind it bloated, just loved the settings and cinematography. Also I was painting native Indians at the time it came out so had a vested interest in the costumes.

  4. Tom Moody

    The Insider suffers from its Hollywood “easy target” theme. Cigarette manufacturers lace their products with extra addictive goodies. That was the big reveal. By 1996 most of the world already knew this — ask any smoker.
    “Going big” and portentous is part of Mann’s appeal, so this movie was the proverbial grenade launched at a gnat.

    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, and it really comes with the terrain. Every news movie now is cast in the mold of All the President’s Men. Spotlight. The Post. I have notes on some of these coming up. Ace in the Hole had a different take on things.

  5. Tom Moody

    Mann-wise (if we must) I like everything I’ve seen up to and including Heat (Thief, The Keep, Manhunter, Mohicans, Heat) and dislike everything I’ve seen thereafter (Insider, Collateral, Miami Vice the Movie). I give high points for style in the early films, but style can’t save the later ones.


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