Based on the Vanity Fair article 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' by Marie
Brenner, director Michael Mann's 'The Insider' is not so much a film which
is anti-tobacco as it is pro-truth. Mann's ability to diversify himself as
a film maker continues to impress me. From his little known 'Thief' in
1981, to his Oscar winning period piece effort 'The Last of the Mohicans' in
1992 to his soulful examination of crime with 1995's 'Heat', Mann always
finds a laid back style mixed with a textured style of great visuals and an
under lying theme of violence, or at least a reference to it (always
tastefully portrayed) is found in his work. Mann teams up with the Oscar
winning writer of 'Forrest Gump', Eric Roth to bring a broadened approach to
a very serious issue which may be the most serious legal entanglement ever
to engulf the United States. I'm talking, of course, about the law suits
that many states have filed against the tobacco industry, citing them for
selling a knowingly dangerous and addictive product which has cost many
health care programs billions of dollars. What 'The Insider' does is it
makes you think about the ethics involved in pursuing the truth, no matter
what the cost.
Based on a true story, 'The Insider' is about a former tobacco company
executive and a producer from t.v.'s '60 Minutes' who collaborate to tell
millions the truth about the way cigarettes are allegedly tampered with to
increase a person's desire for them. Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) is
the conscience-stricken former tobacco executive who wants to blow the
whistle on his former employer and teams up with Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino),
a top producer for '60 Minutes' who works closely with legendary anchor Mike
Wallace (Christopher Plummer).
As the story unfolds, we see that Wigand signed a document of
confidentiality, stating that he would never reveal to outside sources the
details of his job. He eventually balks at this and feels that he has a
greater responsibility to the public. His life then begins to fall apart.
As he makes progress in bringing what he knows to the public, he finds a
bullet in his mailbox, an e-mail is sent to his house threatening to kill
him and every member of his family and his wife leaves him. At least he is
able to find work as a high school teacher after being fired from his old
job with big tobacco.
What really makes 'The Insider' work is the way it tries to tackle the
subject of media ethics. As it is based on a true story, there is a
detailed breakdown of the struggles, arguments and wrangling over what
content is suitable to air and what footage may land CBS' '60 Minutes' in
some serious hot water. Bergman produces the segment with Wallace as the
host, interviewing Wigand and making allegations against big tobacco as the
film becomes more and more absorbing.
The film also does something very clever. It never tries to match its two
leading stars against each other in an effort or given opportunity to
upstage one another. The first half of the film is primarily about Wigand's
dilemma and the second half tells the story of Bergman and Wallace and how
they are at odds during the whole story.
Russell Crowe, who was born in New Zealand, gave a brilliant and hard boiled
performance as the tough cop in 'L.A. Confidential' and mastered an American
accent extremely well. He makes good on that again with his portrayal of
Wigand using a New York accent which he nails down to perfection. Pacino,
my all time favourite actor, gives a straight forward performance as the
veteran producer who oozes decency. He cares about his sources and goes
to bat for them each and every time.
At a running time of over two and a half hours, Michael Mann uses every
minute to properly tell his story of one of this generations greatest
injustices. There is a time during the film where a lot is said about
Jeffrey Wigand's flaws that perhaps question, if not, damage, his
credibility as a witness to his former employer's dealings. Balance is the
key with this film that strives not only to inform but enlighten an audience
in a conventional yet powerful manner. An extraordinary combination
and Oscar nominations for some may be involved.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith