The Insider

Directed By: Michael Mann

Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Phillip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Gina Gershon, and Michael Gambon

"You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out.  To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television.  I do.  I deliver him.  He sits.  He talks.  He violates his own fucking confidentiality agreement.  And he's only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history.  And Jeffrey Wigand, who's out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth?  Yes.  Is it newsworthy?  Yes.  Are we gonna air it?  Of course not.  Why?  Because he's not telling the truth?  No.  Because he is telling the truth.  That's why we're not going to air it.  And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!"
-Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino)

We're running out of heroes in the world.  We're running out of people who will challenge the status quo of our system in a real and meaningful way.  Just look at America today.  We've got kids getting shot for listening to loud music.  We've got politicians who sit on their hands for a living and get paid taxpayer dollars to not do a damn thing.  We've got inequality of opportunity run amok with the rules of the game rigged in favor of those already winning it.  That's why I've always valued issue movies.  They turn the mirrors on us and remind us of the problems we face as a society.  We don't get enough of them anymore.  One of my all-time favorite issue-driven movies is Michael Mann's 1999 corporate thriller The Insider.  If the quote above doesn't say enough, he unleashes the great Al Pacino on camera.

Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) is a scientist at the Brown & Williamson (B&W) Tobacco Company in Kentucky.  He's built a career researching health-related matters.  Though it's a little counterintuitive for someone specializing in health research to work for a company whose products kill people, the benefits are good.  Wigand is doing what he must to provide for his wife Liane (Diane Venora) and their two asthmatic daughters.  All is well until Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur (Michael Gambon) calls Wigand into his office and fires him for "poor communication skills".  Unhappy about this unwarranted layoff, Wigand clearly has a story to tell.  CBS producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) of 60 Minutes is the one to help him tell it.

Upon receiving an anonymous package with some scientific information on the company that produces Philip Morris cigarettes, Bergman reaches out to a contact at the FDA who points him in the direction of Wigand.  When he reaches out to Wigand for help, he gets nothing but resistance.  Bergman continues to reach out to Wigand and eventually cracks his shell.  When he finally meets him, Bergman senses that there's something more to Wigand.  Bergman then greases the rails for a man who wants to tell his story.  By doing so, he throws his hat in the ring for a new segment about what could be the biggest public health reform issue in America.  When Brown & Williamson learns of this, they begin putting extraordinary pressure on the ordinary Wigand to honor the confidentiality agreement he signed during his tenure at the company.  As B&W does everything in its power to make Wigand's life a living hell, Bergman becomes two things, pissed off and curious.  With this in mind, he sets up an interview for Wigand with 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer).  It's just unclear whether it will ever see the light of day.

I have nothing but love for The Insider.  This relentlessly tense corporate thriller from director Michael Mann is one of the best films of the late 1990s.  This is really a film about how the system is rigged against those heroes who try to do the right thing.  Here, we have tobacco corporations complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans annually.  Given the current rules of the game, they have every advantage in keeping this secret undisclosed.  From the director's chair, Mann gives us a corrupt vision of the tobacco industry and some riveting insights into how a news organization cowered in fear from them.  Based on "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner, The Insider is an edgy thriller of the highest caliber that boldly puts Big Tobacco under a cinematic microscope.

Michael Mann treats us to a gritty thriller and really adds his trademark style to the film.  The gray cinematography with which The Insider is filmed really helps to accentuate the dark tone and the serious nature of the movie.  Oscillating between melancholy and eeriness, Mann's powerful score highlights both the paranoid hell in which B&W puts Wigand and the hopelessness that ensues for both Wigand and Bergman as they confront an industry with practically limitless resources.  Lastly, Mann gives us a film with tremendously rich dialogue that delves into the nuances of this vicious public affairs war and what it means for each of his characters individually.  All in all, Mann really does some masterful work in setting the stage in The Insider.

As usual, Mann has a great cast helping to bring his vision to life.  At the forefront, we have Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.  For his part as 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, Pacino gives a fierce performance.  In this role, he's a tenacious advocate for Wigand and will challenge whomever or whatever he must to get his source's story told.  This bold, in-your-face character offers exactly the kind of role in which Pacino can bring his absolute best to the screen.  That's exactly what he does, and we once again get to witness movie magic.  As Bergman's whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, Russell Crowe gives us a tortured, paranoid soul.  In one of his great early performances, Crowe gives us this ordinary man pushed over the edge by a malicious employer.  He gives us a reluctant hero who sacrifices himself and his cushy family life for a far greater good.  Watching Crowe deftly navigate the emotional and psychological depths of his character is utterly mesmerizing.  With Pacino and Crowe together on screen, there's nothing more for which we can ask as moviegoers.

There's an equally strong supporting cast, and they all get their moments to shine.  The obvious standout is Christopher Plummer.  As 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, Plummer brings the grace and dignity of an old school newsman to the role in a fiery way that only he can.  He also has the distinction of being the one to pump the breaks during one of Pacino's great monologues, something few actors could believably do on screen.  For his part as attorney Ron Motley, Bruce McGill has a sensational moment in the deposition of Wigand in Mississippi.  He really kicks things into high gear as he tries to depose his witness in a pretty tense courtroom scene.  Lastly, Phillip Baker Hall gives a feisty depiction of CBS executive Don Hewitt.  He brings an upbeat persona to mask his slippery agenda of self-preservation.

The Insider stands as a towering piece of cinema and one of the finer films of Michael Mann's career.  With a talented cast led by the iconic Al Pacino and a young Russell Crowe, Mann's follow-up to Heat is equally electrifying in a different way.  No half measures are taken in the making of this corporate thriller.  It's the type of movie that will give you goosebumps as the cast and crew give it their all.  The Insider gets a sober rating.  Catch this one when you have a chance.