Raindrops. Coffee cups. A lady lawyer’s pouty smirk. In The Insider, Michael Mann accumulates such little particulars of mood as if they were clues toward seeing The Big Picture. Matched with the director’s feel for the psychological space of landscapes and buildings – pay precise attention to the precise attention he pays to glass walls and wide halls and revolving doors – these minutiae look like evidence that Mann has expanded his style to examine both grand machinations and microscopic emotions.
Yet it went 0 for 7 at the Oscars and without distinction at the box office. Is the movie too sophisticated for its own (commercial) good? Perhaps: ”The Insider” folds a ’70s-style conspiracy thriller into an elite media procedural. In what would be tagged a ”true story” if many of the principals didn’t dispute its facts, a ”60 Minutes” producer (Al Pacino, in righteous ”Serpico” mode) seduces a former tobacco exec (Russell Crowe, both steely and shlubby) into revealing damaging truths about Big Tobacco.
At some point, this disclosure is contrary to the interests of nearly everybody in sight; whirling webs of betrayal radiate from the story’s core. As sensitive to the hearts of its characters as it is quickening to the pulses of its viewers, ”The Insider” suggests that Mann’s found a way to reintroduce humanism to Hollywood.