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The Insider (1999) – Movie Review

The Insider movie poster

Written by: Michael Mann & Eric Roth, based on the Vanity Fair article “The Man Who Knew Too Much”
Directed by: Michael Mann
Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) has information that the tobacco companies don’t want shared. Lowell Bergman (Pacino) is a 60 Minutes producer who runs across Wigand almost by accident when trying to get some scientific cigarette jargon translated into English. But Wigand is itching to tell somebody what he knows. And Bergman wants it on 60 Minutes. And the tobacco companies want Wigand to shut the hell up. Conflict ensues? You betcha.

It’s refreshing to see a film that shows as heroes people who don’t have noserings, don’t have children with seventeen women, and don’t blow things up. Those things have their place in the cinematic spectrum, but they’re workaday now. It’s just nice to see a movie about real people. And “heroes” is perhaps too strong a word, when you consider that it carries with it connotations of being better than others. The two protagonists of this film aren’t necessarily better than anyone else; they just try to do what they think is the right thing. Even the character of Mike Wallace (a fantastic Christopher Plummer), who some thought would be portrayed in a bad light, is simply portrayed in a realistic light. The flaws are all there, for everyone involved, and to see all of their motivations running rampant over one another makes for an extremely engaging film.

[ad#longpost]The story immediately takes off with a blindfolded Bergman being escorted to a meeting with an alleged terrorist leader–and doesn’t stop. The fact that Mann has been able to craft such a taut, intelligent thriller without garish action sequences of any kind, or any of the other hallmarks of the bruised genre, is a testament to his directorial prowess. The further fact that this takes place over the course of more than two hours, and yet does not make one’s ass fall asleep, shows exactly the level of involvement it instills in its viewers. Images such as an e-mail flashing across a screen or a bullet standing up in a mailbox sound simple, yes, but they can still make one’s skin crawl. The ensemble, besides the two leads, is impressive–especially Gina Gershon’s corporate lawyer and Bruce McGill’s attorney. McGill’s scene where he receives Wigand’s testimony is enough to make you leap out of your chair. Also worth mentioning is the musical score by Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance fame), Peter Bourke and Graeme Revell.

All through the viewing of this film, the questions assailed me: what would I do? If I had this sort of information, what would the cost be to my family, friends, life if I spoke up? Or even if I did nothing? There are no easy answers to any of the questions posed by this film. The one thing that is made abundantly clear–sometimes there is a hefty price tag associated with doing the right thing. And in a world where the government, the press, and the entire corporate culture seems to have lost its ability to do the right thing–the price is going to keep going up.

This film is not a film. It’s an achievement. My highest recommendation goes along with it.

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