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Dante Spinotti’s second Oscar nomination and fourth – and, to date, final – collaboration with Michael Mann is a tense true story, based on the Vanity Fair article about Jeffrey Wigand’s conflict with tobacco company Brown & Williamson (a conflict so major and recent, the script had to be vetted thoroughly to avoid lawsuits over the content’s veracity). Mann and Spinotti perfectly capture the shades of gray (both literal and metaphorical) of the world of big companies and the media, with a career-best Russell Crowe as Wigand, the whistleblower who exposed the unethical practices of the cigarette industry, and a beautifully shouty Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman, the CBS reporter who fought to get the story told on a large scale, non-disclosure agreements be damned.
Moments of quiet, almost lyrical aesthetic magnificence go hand in hand with more frenetic, down-and-dirty sequences, climaxing in a phone conversation that remains a loud and proud high point of Pacino’s screen persona (although he’s more mellow in the first half of the picture and easily outscreamed by Bruce McGill, who inadvertently ruptured an intestine while shooting his gloriously furious part in the deposition scene that occurs halfway through the movie).
The Insider is big and subdued at the same time, a long film dealing with hefty themes while simultaneously opting for a very intimate approach to performance, with Spinotti using a special Australian lens for close-ups that redefine the notion of “extreme”. A grand, ambitious undertaking that is suitably receiving its Locarno screening inside the GranRex, with the cinematographer in attendance to talk about it beforehand. Added bonus for Festival attendees: the print is 35mm, meaning Spinotti and Mann’s genius collaboration will be enjoyed in its original glory, warts and all.