Directed by: Michael Mann. This was another one of those movies, like Panic Room I guess, that came out to pretty big fanfare at the time, but which I kind of brushed off. Let’s see, 1999, I was barely a teenager, so even though I was all over Gladiator, a movie with Russell Crowe as an overweight guy in a suit telling the truth…not quite as appealing as sword fights and blood. Once it passed my radar again, though, I thought it looked pretty awesome: Michael Mann, intense suspense thriller, Al Pacino, whistleblowing against Big Tobacco, based on a “true story”—why not? This definitely ranks up with one of my favourite Michael Mann flicks, I’ll say third (behind Heat and Collateral), and it definitely ranks among some of the best stuff Pacino has done in the last few decades. And yeah, now I think I “get” Russell Crowe, I get why he became Hollywood’s A-list dude for a minute there—Gladiator, then this? That’s a great one-two punch, sure to ingratiate you with the Academy and the industry folks, the whole body-stretching thing, like Christian Bale going from The Machinist to Batman. And all of that absurd Method circus trickery aside, he just puts out a great performance. This is a suspense thriller where most of the action is phone calls, intense conversations, sideways glances, and the character’s own paranoia, sometimes proving itself justified. The film always threatens to tip over the edge into blatant “stalwart truth seekers versus evil corporation” territory, with Pacino’s self-righteous bourgeois Baby-Boomer leftist coming off a touch too cartoony for me. The casting, though keeps it together, and Christopher Plummer, Gina Gershon and the instantly trustworthy Philip Baker Hall presenting a nuanced trifecta of real-world, grown-up antagonism, very heavy on the grey area, not easy to pin down. Overall the film does a great job at presenting a complex real-life conflict in a balanced, grown-up way—complicated processes, give and take, pros and cons, hard facts of reality, and not just a few evil individuals propping up the tobacco industry for the sake of being evil. Okay, they dip into that territory a bit too, but not too much, and especially compared with a lot of films of this nature, I thought this one was a textbook example of how to do this kind of thing well.