Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1999: The Insider (Michael Mann)

1999: The Insider (Michael Mann) 
Starting with The InsiderMichael Mann, already a masterful stylist by this point in his career, began going in a new direction.  His films became more abstract, less rooted in cinematic realism as we've come to know it and more concerned with forging something completely modern, and perhaps even without precedent.  Mann has always been interested in filmic vocabulary, but with this next stage he put his experimentation fearlessly at the fore of his work.  And although I still struggle with this later chapter in his career, I can't deny my love for this film. 

Not only is The Insider one of the most formally bold and interesting works for me of this entire period, it merges form and content in a way that makes me want to pack my bags and go pursue something else.  I can't think of many films that, at times, are this avant-garde in their formal approach yet remain completely compelling in a narrative and emotional sense.  Mann has always straddled classical/modern, genre/personal, and real/surreal. And whereas Heat feels like the most classically balanced of all his work, The Insider seems the most balanced on the more modern side of his tendencies.

Other things of note, the casting.  It's incredible, and as meticulous in its ensemble casting as any movie I can remember.  Crowe is awesomely vulnerable.  I completely connect with Pacino in this one.  And of the ensemble, I can't think of people more perfectly cast than Christopher Plummer, Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill, and Colm Feore.  

I know there are people that don't love this one near as much I do.  But I've always marveled at it and consider it one of the greatest accomplishments of the nineties.  

Other contenders for 1999:  From this year I still have some titles to see.  These include: Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead, Suwa Nobuhiro's M/Other, Julio Medem's The Lovers of the Arctic Circle, and Frederick Wiseman's Public Housing.  At some point, I need to revisit Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Rosetta as I struggled with both the one time I saw them. From this year though, I really like Alexander Payne's Election, Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy, Sam Mendes' American Beauty, Andy and Larry Wachowski's The Matrix, David O. Russell's Three Kings, and Steven Soderbergh's The Limey.  I love Bruno Dumont's L'humanite, Takeshi Kitano's Kikujiro, and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.  And my closest runner-up is Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us.

7/8/12 I watched Martin Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy.  A wonderful, incredibly thorough look at Neorealism and the Italian cinema that has so profoundly influenced Scorsese.  Special focus is on Rossellini, but De Sica, Visconti, Fellini, and Antonioni also receive insightful commentary.  A great introduction to anyone just beginning to look into this, one of the cinema's greatest moments.

6/7/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: New American Independents & The Digital Revolution.  Again another fairly interesting episode where I gravitated in particular to those segments with Gus Van Sant and Jane Campion.  

11/4/17 I watched Werner Herzog's My Best Fiend.  I definitely got some new insight into Herzog and Kinski but I wouldn't call it all that great of a doc.  

4/16/20 I watched Nobuhiro Suwa's M/Other.  The first film I have seen from Suwa delves deeply into a male-female relationship that starts to be challenged and threatens to unravel when the male's son from another woman comes to live with them for a month.  It all feels uncommonly true to life.  The relationship is working one day, struggling the next, and then is back on track before starting to seem vulnerable again.  Suwa's style, in a similar way, is very natural.  A couple of times it even takes on some of the characteristics of an old home movie, flickering shots on a a less robust film stock.     

9/6/20 I watched Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's Sicily!  Although the French husband-wife directing team has a major reputation among a number of people I admire, this is only the second film of theirs I have ever seen.  Clearly they are masters of the medium, as they are able to deconstruct it and find puctuation that is different from anything I have ever seen before.  I am thinking of the shots that linger on someone long after they have finished speaking or the sudden shift to silence as the train continues to move through the landscape.  But, it never came together for me.  I enjoyed watching it but when it was all said and done, I was unsure what to make of what I had just seen. 

11/18/21 I watched Kelly Reichardt's Ode.  I watched a very poor print but I feel confident in saying it contains some of Reichardt's skill for capturing the feel of the American landscape and her soft lyricism.  It does not have the weight of some of her greatest work but it signals a bit of the talent to come. 

2/13/22 I watched Jean-Claude Biette's Trois ponts sur la riviere.  I know more about French film than I know about almost anything else.  And though I was aware of some of Biette's work, particularly Loin de Manhattan and Le champignon des Carpathes, this is the first of his movies I have seen.

Biette has a great feel for capturing spaces in a precisely realistic way, like a college student's apartment in Paris or a bookstore in Porto, Portugal.  Similarly, his dialogue and the way he lets his actors move around and express themselves, reinforces a directorial desire to adhere closely to the way these types of moments unfold in real life.  In fact, it seems that Biette's quest to remain accurate and truthful give the film one of its most unique qualities, its willingness to show certain glances or moments without the need to explain them.  I am thinking, for instance, of the way Claire stares from her hotel window at the Brazilian guest, the brief scene suggesting it is normal for attraction to occur without ever being acted upon.  

I can only guess at the reasons for it but like Rivette's Out 1, Le Pont du Nord or even La bande des quatre, Biette includes, with the character of Frank, a subplot of noirish overtones.  Like in the abovementioned Rivette works, the subplot feels more artificial and more difficult to believe than one typically experiences in regular genre films while the foregrounded story, that of Arthur and Claire, feels far more real than most movies.

2/26/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Belfast, Maine.  Wiseman is as pure and true to form as always.  But I found this particular cast of characters slightly less interesting than those featured in my favorite Wiseman films.   


  1. I am certain that the bloggers who visit here will full embrace this film Jeffrey, though I was not quite the fan, nor of Mann's work in general. But when such a conviction is forged I always believe that I am the problem. I do agree though, that HEAT is on a high level. Your strong feelings ar really conveyed here:

    "Not only is The Insider one of the most formally bold and interesting works for me of this entire period, it merges form and content in a way that makes me want to pack my bags and go pursue something else. I can't think of many films that, at times, are this avant-garde in their formal approach yet remain completely compelling in a narrative and emotional sense."

    My own #1 Film of 1999:

    Rosetta (Dardennes; France)


    The Wind Will Carry Us (Kiarostami; Iran)
    Magnolia (Anderson; USA)
    Time Regained (Ruiz; France)
    Beau Travail (Denis; France)
    The Limey (Soderbergh; USA)
    All About My Mother (Almodovar; Spain)
    Election (Payne; USA)
    American Beauty (Mendes; USA)
    Mifune (Jacobsen; Sweden)
    Les Amants Criminels (Ozon; France)
    Boys Don't Cry (Pierce; USA)
    The Loss of Sexual Innocence (Figgis; USA)
    Mumford (Kasden; USA)
    The Straight Story (Lynch; USA)
    Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick; UK; USA)
    Girl on the Briadge (Leconte; France)
    The Cider House Rules (Hallstrom; USA)
    Titus (Taymour; USA)
    East is East (O'Donnell; UK)
    Sunshine (Szabo; Hungary)

  2. Sam, thanks so much for those words! I know this one, as much as any of my favorite films, has just as many detractors.

    I definitely look forward to seeing ROSETTA again. I really fell for THE SON, THE CHILD, and LORETTA'S SILENCE this year when I finally caught up with them.

    Thanks, Sam! Always great having you here.

  3. This is definitely my fave film of 1999 and of Mann's entire career. I think that one of the reasons that it is such a great film is how Mann merges his thematic preoccupations and trademark style with a real-life story. In some respects this reined in his more over-the-top tendencies and keep focused. As a result, he gets a nice modulated performance from Pacino and probably the last great one he's given.

    And what can you say about Russell Crowe. Amazing. I was really angry that he won the Academy Award for GLADIATOR when he clearly deserved it for this film. What revelation. He really nailed this character stripped himself down emotionally to play a man beset by pressures both internally and externally.

    I'm also a sucker for journalism films and I would say that this ranks right up there with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.

  4. JD, very well said, and I'm with you all the way on this one! I also think it ranks right up there with Pakula's film.

    Thanks, JD. Always great to have you here!

  5. I consider The Insider the best of 1999 as well. I remember telling all my friends how great this movie was back then. Noone wanted to pay attention. It should have a better reputation and more people proclaiming its greatness.

    1. The Insider
    2. Eyes Wide Shut
    3. Bringing Out The Dead
    4. The Talented Mr Ripley
    5. The Matrix
    6. Fight Club
    7. Being John Malkovich
    8. The Sixth Sense
    9. The Virgin Suicides
    10. Election

    My list is all American since this was a year where I didn't see many foreign films.

  6. Thanks so much, Anonymous! I completely agree.

  7. Jeffrey, I liked The Insider quite a bit, one of Mann's better films along with Thief and Collateral, however my # 1 pick is “American Beauty” with “The Straight Story” a close second.

    # 1 American Beauty

    Best of the rest

    The Straight Story
    Boys Don’t Cry
    Eyes Wide Shut
    Being John Malkovich
    Topsy Turvy
    The Limey
    Sleepy Hallow
    Cider House Rules
    Bringing Out the Dead
    Sweet and Lowdown
    Three Kings
    The Insider

  8. John, great to hear that you really like this one, too! From your list, I like THE STRAIGHT STORY, BOYS DON'T CRY, and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH although all a little less than the ones I mentioned. I still need to see SLEEPY HOLLOW, CIDER HOUSE RULES, and SWEET AND LOWDOWN.

    Thanks, John! Always great to have you here.

  9. In my eyes, this was something of a down year, without a lot of great films. I am a big fan of Michael Mann, but I actually rank The Insider among my least favorite of his works - in front of only Ali in terms of his 9 releases that I have seen. My choice has to be Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT. While not nearly my favorite Kubrick film, I still think it is quite easily the best of '99. It's definitely a difficult work though, so I can see how people with very similar taste could disagree on it.

  10. Dave, I completely hear you and owe EYES WIDE SHUT another look at some point! It definitely intrigued me when I saw it upon its release, but it never fully grabbed me.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great having you here.

  11. I love The Insider, and you do a wonderful job of highlighting why this is such a pivotal film in Mann's canon. It's my favorite thing Crowe has ever done, and the last great Pacino performance as far as I'm concerned.

    My choice this year is a tie between two of my very favorite films of all time, Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Claire Denis' Beau Travail. I also love Cronenberg's eXistenZ, Lynch's The Straight Story, Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club and Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy

  12. Drew, thanks so much for the kind words!

    From your list, I still need to see eXistenZ. And I need to revisit BEAU TRAVAIL and BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB at some point as I struggled a little with both the first time I saw them.

    Thanks, Drew. Always great to have you here!