The Insider

The Insider

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Michael Mann has such a recognisable trademark (Heat, Manhunter) that you have to force yourself to stop thinking of The Insider as a gangster thriller.

With his use of handheld camera, often from the back, or side of the head, and precision slow motion, every scene is implanted with tension. If Sidney Lumet had tackled this true story of how TV journalism handles a whistleblower from the tobacco industry, it would have been hardtack realism, in the style of Q & A.

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Mann brings an artistic density, adding another dimension to aspiration and fear, deepening the understanding of how pressure changes a man, how paranoia grows like cancer, how betrayal is the currency of modern commercial life.

Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) is Mike Wallace's producer on the CBS infotainment show, 60 Minutes. He comes from a radical journalistic background and is old enough to remember integrity as being more important than the size of a wage packet.

Wallace (Christopher Plummer) has been in the game for 40 years. He is vain, hard-nosed, a no-goddam-nonsense professional and perfectly aware that guys at his stage of life have nowhere to go but to the club house once ratings start to slide.

Dr Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) is a scientist, who somehow has ended up as head of research and development at the third largest cigarette company in the US. His wife (Diane Venora) and young daughters enjoy a palatial suburban lifestyle - all the goodies, without the fun. And then he's fired, for no reason.

About this time a fat file, concerning a tobacco industry study on fire hazard, lands on Bergman's desk and he seeks out Wigand to decipher it for him.

What he finds is something far more interesting, a man in shock, angry at being dismissed, even angrier at being bullied into signing a gagging agreement, whose wife is failing to come to terms with the humiliation of losing the status of being married to a high earner. Also, he knows things, very damaging things, about the conduct of his former employers.

This is a film about truth, about trust, about risk. In the old days, when Hollywood was black-and-white, it would have been the story of a brave man against a wicked corporation, aided and abetted by Kirk Douglas, with a press pass stuck in the brim of his fedora.

Mann is interested in what it means to be the good guy in a world dominated by commercial considerations. What is a good guy, anyway? Someone who jeopardizes his family's well being for selfish reasons? A current affairs pimp, who hasn't noticed that he manipulates people for the sake of his ego?

Russell Crowe, the Kiwi star of L.A. Confidential, is utterly convincing as a private man, wrestling with personal demons in the gladiatorial arena of lawspeak and hack politics. Al Pacino steps into the Kirk Douglas role with enough confidence to make you believe that programme makers might have a soul after all. The Insider is the most intelligent movie on media morality since The Sweet Smell Of Success.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A whistleblower within a US cigarette company is groomed by a veteran TV journalist.
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Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Eric Roth, Michael Mann

Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon

Year: 1999

Runtime: 160 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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