The Blu-ray of Michael Mann’s "The Insider" doesn’t offer the director’s cuts (thankfully) and surplus extras his other movies came with. You get a short production featurette, and a trailer. The extras column comes up pretty short on this one. But the film - featuring Russell Crowe as a Big Tobacco whistleblower, and Al Pacino as the journalist who coaxes him out of hiding - has aged like a fine wine.
But that’s only for people who love big acting. Because the acting in this film is huge, almost as huge as Russell Crowe has looked in his last couple movies. It’s brash, angry, and also a fair bit less measured than the films Mann had traded in previously - in a sense, it’s almost awards bait. No, this is probably the least complex film he ever made.
Never before had he used such clear-cut ’good guys’ and ’bad guys’, not even in films about Nazis ("The Keep") or serial killers ("Manhunter.") No, he sets up Pacino and Crowe as crusaders against an industry he portrays as corrupt at best - it’s like "All the President’s Men" if Woodward and Bernstein were portrayed as superheroes rather than as audience surrogates. He inundates us with sniveling corporate weasel after sniveling corporate weasel, never giving his antagonists a shred of humanity. They’re faceless adversity objects.
Yet, with stars of this caliber, and a social issue that’s easy to get behind (even people who smoke cigarettes hate cigarettes,) it all coalesces to work well enough. His incredible cinematography certainly doesn’t hurt: He keeps shooting these strong foreground/background contrasts, but he does them with handheld photography - and it is intense. Some close-ups of Russell Crowe just feel blisteringly violent, for lack of a better term. You can see him hinting towards the shaky aesthetic he uses on his digital projects like "Miami Vice" and "Collateral" here - but he’s just dipping his toe in the pool. He hadn’t dived in yet.