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.

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34 thoughts on “Scenes Spotlight: Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’

  1. One of the best Michael Mann films, ever. Cast, script, and direction melded so very well with this. I’m still waiting on the Blu-ray release of this one (and find it a head-scratcher that it’s taking this long). Fine post on an extraordinary film, Ruth.

    p.s., Christopher Plummer had the best quote, for me, in the film, too:

    “No that’s fame. Fame has a fifteen minute half-life, infamy lasts a little longer.

    1. Oh that’s an excellent quote indeed Michael, one of the best even amongst other great ones in this film. Yeah, a BD release is overdue!

  2. PrairieGirl

    Excellent Spotlight, excellent film. Back in the 1950s, CBS was spotlighted in an internal controversy with broadcast journalist Edward R Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck, another great film in the same genre.

  3. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth and company:

    Excellent choice and dissertation!

    I’ve always looked at Mann’s ‘The Insider’ as a post doctoral thesis regarding
    his style, use of angles and just plain playling with new ideas in telling a story.
    Moving away from the gifted category with ‘Thief’ and ‘Manhunter’ and much closer to the rarifed air of Hawks, Ford, Cukor and Stevens.

    Everything about the film is polished to a high gloss. From his choice of cast. Though I had a hard time buying Anthony Hopkins as ‘Nixon’. Plummer’s Mike (Nee, Myron) Wallace doesn’t ring true. Russell Crowe walks away with just about every scene he is in. Aided by Al Pacino and the ladies in attendance who perform some of their best work!

    1. I really need to see ‘Manhunter,’ especially w/ Brian Cox as Hannibal! I really like Mann’s style, I think the only movie of his I’m not blown away by is Public Enemies.

      Yes, Crowe was definitely the scene stealer in this one. I do think he ought to have won Best Actor back to back in this and then in Gladiator.

    1. Hi Margaret, welcome to FC! Wow, you saw this just before Wallace died? That is freaky. I think the trio of Pacino, Plummer and Crowe are all superb, I might get the Blu-ray as soon as it’s released.

  4. Ted S.

    I think this was the best film of 1999, not the overrated American Beauty. And yes Crowe should’ve won the Oscar for best actor, this was probably Mann’s best chance of getting the golden statue but again the Oscar voters decided to give it to the more popular movie. I think it was around this time that I decided to think the Oscar is a joke.

    Like Michael said, I still don’t understand why Disney won’t release this film on Blu-ray yet.

    Also, this was the last movie Mann shot on film, I do wish he goes back to doing that again. His last few films looked like home video footage, it worked on Collateral but Miami Vice and Public Enemies needed to look like films not home video.

    1. I think American Beauty is more sensational, that’s why audiences perhaps like it more. But I actually like how understated The Insider is, but yet it’s so tense and gripping.

      I’m not crazy about Public Enemies, I thought the trailer was excellent but the film, not so much. I do enjoy Miami Vice but not something I want to see again. I do think his work like this one, Collateral and Heat has such great re-playability value though.

  5. sanclementejedi

    Ruth, I have not seen this and now I have to add it to my must watch list. I love me some Mann, not sure how I missed this one.

      1. sanclementejedi

        Ruth I added it to my must watch list, Finally saw Let the Right One In, last night omg that was awesome

  6. Love that scene. LOVE that movie. And I suppose you’re right technically when you say it’s not fast paced but, I don’t know……to me, this film is 100x more fast paced than just about any movie that is officially considered “fast paced.”

    Nice tribute.

    1. You’re right, even though it’s not fast-paced in the sense of an action flick, the sharp script keeps it moving along swiftly. That’s why I said even the slower scenes where seemingly nothing happens, it still packs so much tension. Proof that a movie can still be suspenseful and gripping without a single shot being fired.

  7. Great film and great performances all around. Pacino could definitely use some Michael Mann in his career right now as he has seemingly opted to crash and burn to the lowest of the low with Adam Sandler’s latest disaster of a movie.
    Michael Mann is one of those directors that can’t seem to make a bad film (even though I haven’t seen Miami Vice). Having said that, I believe the only GREAT film he has directed is The Last of the Mohicans, which I think owes much of its success to the extraordinary performance by Daniel D. Lewis.

    Great insight into a very good film Ruth.

    1. Yeah I know, maybe make another movie w/ Mann so Pacino will likely have a trio of excellent Mann movies after this and ‘Heat.’ 😀

      I like Miami Vice but I’m a bit disappointed w/ Public Enemies. It’s not terrible but a bit tedious and didn’t live up to the awesome trailer! You’re right about Day-Lewis in ‘Mohicans,’ absolutely marvelous!

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