Michael Mann’s filmography is dominated by crime films, but they’re rarely the sort of crime depicted in The Insider. Released on this day in 1999, the film adapts a Vanity Fair story concerning the censorship of a 1995 60 Minutes story about tobacoo-industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe). Al Pacino, in one of his best later-career performances, co-stars as Lowell Bergman, the 60 Minutes producer behind the story, and the pair lead a ridiculously talented cast that includes everyone from Lindsay Crouse to Rip Torn to Christopher Plummer, the latter a standout as 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace.
For as much as The Insider works as an actors’ showcase, it’s also a terrific demonstration of Mann’s mastery of mood. The score, by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke, feeds into a tense atmosphere in which every conversation doubles as a power play, whether any of those involved acknowledge it or not. And, for as much as The Insider is a film about the nastiness of Big Tobacco, it’s also about how corporate interests have a hard time co-existing with journalistic responsibility—and prescient about who would have the upper hand in that struggle in the years to come.
Here’s Mann talking about a key element of the film, and his own conversations with Wallace, before an audience at Loyola Marymount University: