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Starring: Al Pacino & Russell Crowe
Running Time: 160 Minutes
Rating: Rated R for strong language.
Video Release: 11 April 2000
Tagline: "Warning: Exposing the Truth May Be Hazardous."
Not that the entire film is riveting, but The Insider does maintain a level of unique suspense and potent drama despite the absence of any physical action. It is such films that become renowned as time passes, for they do not resign to the industry standard of car chases, shoot-outs, and flesh. So, will it hold up over time? I suppose only "time" will tell.
Directed by Michael Miami-Vice Mann, The Insider features a one-two punch with actors Al Pacino and Russell Crowe starring. Our tale (based on a true story) begins with corporate scientist Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) leaving the tobacco company, Brown & Williamson. While he is officially released from his head-of-research duties for "poor communication skills," the real fact is he refused to participate in "chemical enhancement" research. This unethical practice would allow cigarettes to become even more addictive as the smoker absorbs a higher dose of the nicotine. Wigand, bound by a confidentiality agreement, is forbidden to discuss company policies with anyone and if he did, would lose his severance pay and cherished hospitalization -- perhaps even more.
Enter Lowell Bergman (Pacino), a radical newspaper man of the seventies who traded in his bandanna for a corporate office at CBSís 60 Minutes. Bergmanís initial contact with Wigand is for another reason altogether. He's researching a story (cigarettes as a fire hazard) but Wigand's apprehensive behavior when approached peaks Bergman's curiosity. Wigand's heavy conscience will not allow him to keep the truth suppressed and (with some persuasion from Bergman) blows the whistle on B&W despite the potential threat to himself and his familyís safety.
The story then spirals - a bit - into various directions as Wigand takes a second seat to Bergman who becomes the "star" of the later half of the film. Mann delves into the legal interference B&W throws at CBS if they air Wigandís interview and how Bergman fights the 60 Minutes execs to get his story to the people.
The acting in this film is nothing short of excellent. Al Pacino is a fireball of journalistic integrity who not only fights for his stories but for the people behind them. He is a noble newsman who can be described as a flawed hero. While he waves the flags of truth and justice, he also knows his limitations. As he states to his wife: "This is Lowell Bergman, Iím a producer for '60 Minutes.' You take the words '60 Minutes' out of that sentence and people donít return your calls."
While Pacino is good, Crowe is better. Dr. Wigand is a timid, restless character who sacrifices all that is important to him for the greater good. He is an average man caught up in the volatile (and very-high profiting) arena of tobacco sales and the media. Wigand is threatened, character defamed, and entire world turned upside down all because he "tells the truth." It is this character whom the audience best relates with for he personifies the great American hero (the little guy) who confronts the greedy and powerful conglomeration known as the tobacco industry.
The Insider has a supporting cast that compliments the film quite effectively: Christopher Plummer (as the veteran newsman, Mike Wallace), Diane Verona as Liane Wigand, and Philip Baker as Don Hewitt. As the movieís tension is created without confrontation, the supporting cast is vital for the film to maintain its level of intensity. The suspense (always a frame out of reach) throws the audience into Wigandís shoes as we feel this invisible enemy he cannot see, touch, or defeat. Mann (with cinematographer Dante Spinotti) adds to this anxiety by employing a variety of hand-held shots that creates a very uncertain atmosphere.
What are the negatives? There are certain sequences that could have been done without. A lengthy introduction set in Lebanon could have easily been eliminated. Another negative is the shifting of focus from Wigand to Bergman. While Wigand dominated most of the first half of the film, the second half focuses more on Bergman and the battle at CBS whether "to air or not to air."
The biggest problem with The Insider is its length. Despite its many dramatic moments, the filmís 160 minute length is a bit of a stretch. While Mann handles his subject matter effectively, this tale could have been told in less time. It is somewhat ironic that the second half of the film is about this debate on whether or not to edit Dr. Wigandís interview. Perhaps the filmmakers involved should have questioned the editing of "their film" instead. Give it a "3."
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).