While his 1995 crime epic Heat will likely always be my “favorite” film by master filmmaker Michael Mann, his 1999 journalism thriller The Insider is likely his “best” overall theatrical effort. Simply by virtue of avoiding any sense of melodrama (no matter how rarefied as in Heat or Miami Vice) and making a film as good, or nearly as good, as Alan J. Pakula’s immortal classic All The President’s Men, The Insider stands as one of the most underrated movies ever to have been bestowed with nine Academy Award nominations (it won nothing). Mann’s usual brilliant sense of place and atmosphere is on firm display here, with Dante Spinotti’s elegantly stylish 2.35:1 cinematography maximizing space within the frame, with certain camera moves meant to dive deep into the consciousness of the characters within any given scene. The emotional and informational depth to the screenplay, co-written by Mann and the estimable Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Good Shepherd), is staggering to behold, as it’s the rare drama where everything is motivated by intelligent, dramatic discourse and plausible actions and situations rather than the cheap demands of plot or genre conventions. Al Pacino was terrific here, subverting expectations to a certain degree, reteaming with Mann a few years after their iconic work on Heat. But it’s the Russell Crowe show all the way, and in The Insider, this tremendous actor delivered the best performance of his impressive career, painting a portrait of a morally and spiritually conflicted man who had to face some serious personal challenges in order to get his life back on track. The dynamite supporting cast includes one of my personal favorite scene stealers Bruce McGill (show-stopping moments during the deposition sequence!), Colm Feore, Diane Venora, Christopher Plummer, Michael Gambon, Philip Baker Hall, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lindsay Crouse, Gina Gershon, Rip Torn, Michael Paul Chan, Wings Hauser, and Nester Serrano. The haunting and introspective score from Lisa Gerard and Pieter Bourke is classic Mann, perfectly complimenting Spinotti’s lucid and mobile images, which feel as if they’re always searching for thematic truth, while the various key characters consistently stare down their own existentialism in hopes of finding catharsis.