Scenes Spotlight: Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’

CBS’ newsman Mike Wallace passed away last Saturday at the age of 93. He’s the star of the network’s TV news magazine 60 Minutes from the time it’s launched in 1968. As someone who almost majored in journalism in college, I certainly admired someone with such panache and brilliance. Surely Mr. Wallace was a pioneer and icon of American journalism.

Hearing about his death brings back memories of one of my favorite films that happen to depict the renowned journalist, albeit in an unflattering light. Now, Mr. Wallace likely would not want to have his name be associated with this movie, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. The film was based on the Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner, which focused on Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower trying to expose tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s dangerous business practice. Not surprisingly, Mr. Wallace disliked his on-screen portrayal which depicts him as yielding to corporate pressure to kill Wigand’s story (per Wikipedia).

Here’s a clip of Plummer as the no-nonsense newsman reacting to having his interview edited out. Wow, that’s powerful stuff, Plummer is such an underrated actor. Glad he finally got his way-overdue Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year.


Now, how far creative license was taken by director Michael Mann is debatable, but as a dramatic thriller, this is definitely one of Michael Mann’s best work. The performances are top notch all around, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer are superb in their roles. Crowe was barely recognizable as Wigand, with 35 extra pounds and hair bleached white, a far cry from his role in Gladiator the year after. I tell you, Crowe should’ve won an Oscar that year instead of Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The supporting cast is great as well, including Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill and Philip Baker Hall.

Now, this is not a fast-paced film by any means, but boy is it ever gripping. It’s quiet but intense. Even at the slowest moment, the tension is always on as there is so much at stake and nobody has an easy decision to make. If you haven’t seen this movie, I suggest you skip the clip at the end but take a look at this trailer below and tell me this doesn’t at least intrigue you. It’s arguably one of the best journalism movies ever made, it’s a thriller with a documentary vibe of a David vs. Goliath story.


Now, those who’ve seen this will perhaps recall this awesome finale between Wallace and 60 Minutes‘ then producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino). It’s poignant, dramatic and über stylish… that is, quintessentially Mann’s. Perhaps Pacino should reunite with Mann again as he also hit a high note in their first collaboration, Heat.


The camera angles and slow-motion photography adds so much to the stern atmosphere. The music at the end is just outstanding… brilliantly captures the somber but defiant mood of that scene.


Have you seen this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie or Michael Mann.