Despite having no action scenes, a 2.5 hour running time, and based around the tired subject of tobacco, “The Insider” manages to be one of – if not the best thriller of the year.
Michael Mann has created a tense character drama which has all that more an impact thanks to the fact that the events involved in it are true to life. There is no clear win-lose situation, the characters are all different shades of grey, and it bites in the politics behind TV news and the tobacco industry.
Crowe and Pacino give solid and engaging performances, but neither is particularly memorable. While it gets to show off each of their talents, they’re playing roles very similar to ones they’ve done before – and so these turns don’t stand out.
The chemistry between the pair is good, far superior than the Pacino-DeNiro mix in Mann’s previous film “Heat”. Christopher Plummer steals the show with his uncanny impersonation of “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace, here portrayed as a gruff man who juggles between a fierce loyalty to Pacino and the fear of ending his career on a low note.
Gina Gershon also makes a great cameo, shedding her bombshell image for that of a sharp professional lawyer for CBS. Because of the nature of the story, the film is slow placed and not much happens in the way of actual plot which mixes aspects of a political and paranoia thriller.
The attacks at legal hypocrisy are sharp but sadly once brought up aren’t clearly resolved. The paranoia aspects though are great thanks to Mann’s imaginitive cinematography and ability to create some truly atmospheric moments which are far more tense than pretty much any scene in recent horror films.
In the end though the slow pacing and lack of action will shy away younger audiences, but be aware these are just minor flaws which will only be noticed by that demographic. This is very much an adult drama which is fascinating even if you have no idea of the real story behind it (like me). Certainly, this is one of the year’s best.