An exceptionally engrossing thriller and a chest-beating indictment of corporatization, Michael Mann's The Insider features the filmmaker firing on all cylinders. Mann's a maximalist; he scarcely lets a scene pass without underscoring its deep, weighty importance whether through imperious music cues, dramatic compositions or slick, polished lighting. But it ends up being a perfect fit for the material; Mann mythologizes the real-life story of corporate intrigue and journalistic frustration without crushing its delicate nuances. That he does so with such a seemingly effortless touch is no small feat.
Based on Jeffrey Wigand's whistleblowing on tobacco company Brown & Williamson and the 60 Minutes expose that featured him, The Insider details the behemoth corporate interests that coalesced to hinder the truth from coming out. Russell Crowe stars as Wigand, a mild-mannered ex-VP with potentially damning knowledge about cigarette manufacturers' nicotine practices. Al Pacino is 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, a crusading newsman determined to do whatever it takes to get the story. Mann and co-writer Eric Roth set up both as archetypal characters, but there are some intriguing layers, especially in Crowe's performance, which reveals an increasingly paranoid man perhaps not as motivated by conscience as much as one thought.
For his part, Pacino is reliably Pacino-esque, but the fiery outbursts are tempered by a more melancholic resignation, making for probably the greatest latter-day Pacino turn in a career smattered with self-parody. Perhaps even better is Christopher Plummer as legendary newsman Mike Wallace, a truly great journalist stuck in the uncomfortable transition of analog to digital, overseen by a host of corporate overlords with only one thing on their minds.
The Insider is impeccable filmmaking -- the breathless thrum of its thriller exterior never slows, while the film's insidiously downbeat themes snake through the foundation. Simultaneously, it's immensely satisfying and wholly depressing, no matter how victorious that final act seems to be.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Insider is granted a 1080p high definition transfer with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Disney's non-animation catalog releases can be a source of some trepidation, but fortunately, they hit a home run with this one. Filmic fine detail is abundant, colors are consistent and richly saturated and shadow detail is excellent. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also superb, offering a fully immersive experience with crystal clear dialogue, music and effects.
There was some speculation online that Criterion might pick up The Insider for a release; it's certainly a film that would have benefited from more supplemental material. Anyway, all we get here are a couple inconsequential carryovers from the old DVD release -- an EPK-style production featurette and the film's theatrical trailer.
The Bottom Line
One of the finest films of Michael Mann's career, The Insider gets a high-def upgrade worthy of its greatness.