(1999)4Karl WilliamsA riveting, controversial true story handled with tangible class and a documentary feel by director Michael Mann, this real-life drama was nominated for seven Academy awards. Juggling such monolithic issues as corporate responsibility, journalistic ethics, one's moral duty to the truth, and the politics of class, the film is a stew of sober intelligence and one of the best whistleblower dramas ever made. Al Pacino certainly calls upon some of his acting standards as the crusading news producer Lowell Bergman. But he also displays a new prickliness, a smug self-righteousness that balances out his heroism. Most astonishingly, in a time when stars want to portray characters of unmitigated courage, he doesn't back down from the narrative's assertion that he is crassly manipulative. That's a thoroughly unlikable quality flowing from the character's growing cynicism and self-interest, and while it may not be unrealistic, it is extraordinary to find that kind of veracity in a major, mainstream motion picture. Balancing him is Russell Crowe as the titular hero, pulling off a seemingly Robert De Niro-inspired physical, vocal, and behavioral transformation that fans of Crowe's award-winning turn in Gladiator (2000) will have to see to believe. Christopher Plummer earns high marks as Mike Wallace, but the film's greatest asset isn't its fine, notable performances. The Insider (1999), despite press reports attacking the film for its factual lapses, is actually about something important, providing a four-course meal of cinematic food for thought. Arguably Mann's best film to date, The Insider is worth its weight in gold, especially in an era of visceral moviemaking that encourages an audience to check its collective brain at the ticket counter.