Cause & Effect: Michael Mann directs The Insider
by David Geffner | Photos by Frank Connor | Directors Guild of America Magazine (November 1999)
Recently, the Department of Justice announced it was proceeding with a civil lawsuit against “big tobacco” on behalf of U.S. taxpayers. One can easily argue that certain portions of the Justice Department suit, which will number into the billions of dollars, are a direct outgrowth of the true-to-life events portrayed in director Michael Mann’s latest film, The Insider, the story of Brown & Williamson research-scientist-turned-whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, and his appearance on 60 Minutes. It is an extremely intelligent, politically complex that is eerily on target with events which continue to dominate American headlines.
Is it a surprise that Mann, the creator of Miami Vice and a director who anticipated the style-obsessed MTV-type filmmaking by nearly a decade, should turn out such meaty work? Hardly. The Insider still has all the director’s personalized trademarks: a moody electronic score, lush atmospheric cinematography, and edgy camera compositions to spare. Much like his last two efforts, Heat and Last of the Mohicans, Mann is once again concerned with flawed men and the larger forces at play which shape their lives.
With Mann’s own efforts within the DGA, serving on the Western Director’s Council and exploring such issues as creative rights and violence in popular entertainment and its potential impact on society, it’s tempting to draw a comparison to The Insider’s heavy-hearted TV producer, Lowell Bergman, and his efforts to block the political juggernaut that enveloped CBS News. But, as I found out in this spirited exchange with Mann from his office on the Fox lot, his sleek and deliberate films — less than a dozen in 20 years — are not complx morality plays — just really great stories.
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