They say you should never see two things being made: Sausage and legislation. Add journalism to that list. I've been in this racket long enough to know that objectivity is painfully lacking in the places you expect to find it the most. Backroom deals make strange bedfellows of interest-conflicted parties (e.g. Time-Warner owns Entertainment Weekly magazine, which reviews Warner Bros. films, etc.) So when 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) decided to do a story about the hazards of cigarettes in 1996, he found himself embroiled in controversy.
Central to that controversy was Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), a VP with Brown & Williamson, the #3 tobacco company in the U.S. Just-fired and full of rage, Wigand "blew the whistle" on B&W, and after much haranguing, he told a tale of the hazards of smoking - and the fact that the tobacco companies knew about those hazards - to Mike Wallace (Plummer) and 60 Minutes.
But before the segment could air, B&W threatened legal action against all the parties, Wigand became the subject of a vicious smear campaign, his wife left him, he basically went nuts, and Bergman started to feel responsible for ruining Wigand's life - all with nothing to show for it, because CBS top brass refused to air the interview.
Add in the impending sale of CBS to Westinghouse, and you're staring into a morass of journalistic dishonesty and a legal migraine.
That any of this makes interesting filmmaking is a genuine surprise, and with a running time close to 3 hours, it's even more amazing that my attention was held throughout. Mann, last seen directing Heat, is certainly unnecessarily long-winded throughout the movie, but some stellar performances keep The Insider going strong. It goes without saying that Pacino burns in his role, but it's Crowe who deserves the real praise as the falling-apart Wigand. Think Oscar nomination; he deserves it.
The funny thing about The Insider is that Wigand's story is not the most interesting part of the film. It is at first, but Mann (wisely) eventually directs the story back to CBS, with focus on the wrangling within its corporate hierarchy about whether to run the interview. Why? Because the "danger of smoking" is really old news. Philip Morris's recent admission that smoking causes cancer is a further sign that this whole debate might be beating a dead horse.
Stick that in your pipe.
Livin' la vida smoka'.
Run time: 157 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th November 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $29M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Touchstone Pictures, Forward Pass, Kaitz Productions, Mann/Roth Productions, Spyglass Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 127 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.9 / 10
Director: Michael Mann
Screenwriter: Eric Roth
Starring: Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman, Russell Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand, Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, Diane Venora as Liane Wigand, Philip Baker Hall as Don Hewitt, Lindsay Crouse as Sharon Tiller, Debi Mazar as Debbie De Luca, Stephen Tobolowsky as Eric Kluster, Colm Feore as Richard Scruggs, Bruce McGill as Ron Motley, Gina Gershon as Helen Caperelli, Michael Gambon as Thomas Sandefur, Rip Torn as John Scanlon, Lynne Thigpen as Mrs. Williams, Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Barbara Wigand, Michael Paul Chan as Norman the Cameraman, Linda Hart as Mrs. Wigand, Robert Harper as Mark Stern, Nestor Serrano as FBI Agent Robertson, Pete Hamill as NY Times Reporter, Wings Hauser as Tobacco Lawyer, Cliff Curtis as Sheikh Fadlallah, Renee Olstead as Deborah Wigand, Michael Moore as Michael Moore, Gary Sandy as Sandefur's Lawyer, Willie C. Carpenter as John Harris, Paul Butler as Charlie Phillips, Jack Palladino as Jack Palladino, Megan Odebash as Sandra Sutherland
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