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  Insider, The Big Tobacco Is Watching You
Year: 1999
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowsky, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Rip Torn, Lynne Thigpen, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Roger Bart
Genre: Drama, Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sixty Minutes in 1995 was one of the highest-regarded, and highest-rated, news magazine shows in the United States, and Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) was one of its most powerful producers - or so he thought. For a man who managed to get their most respected news presenter Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) interviews with the kind of people who simply did not agree to interviews, Bergman thought that his journalistic integrity, and that of his colleagues, was second to none. But then along came Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), who had just been sacked from a tobacco corporation and was feeling as if he had something to get off his chest...

Many of Michael Mann's films could be accused of preferring the clinical detail to the emotional response, and those attempts to hit the audience in their feelings could be misjudged or overblown in too many cases, whereas his strengths lay in the setpiece, the expert, precise handling and presentation of story and scene. That was to say, perhaps he was a better technician than anything else, yet The Insider was an anomaly to that view, as it contained a slow-burning sense of outrage that funnily enough was far more effective than Mann's usual macho concerns. This was still about men proving themselves in their chosen arena, but there was more to it.

The two main characters are starkly drawn, but not simplified to the extent that they might as well have been wearing the white stetsons while the tobacco men wore the black ones. Really both the Wigand and the Bergman of the film needed to be quickly understandable because elsewhere Mann and co-writer Eric Roth did not skimp on the facts of the case, regardless of their dramatic licence, which drove their story along, leading to so much information that the whole thing sprawled over the two hours mark quite substantially. And yet, if you were willing to pay attention, after it was over and you were digesting the injustices of the incidents depicted, it would not have come across as lengthy as it actually was.

Much of this was down to the righteous indignation at the movie's core which fueled its momentum and provided Crowe with a role that truly put him on the world's acting map, and offered Pacino one of his most satisfying performances of the decade, even better than the one he had supplied in Mann's Heat. Certainly there were the "tics" that he relied on increasingly at this stage in his career, the raised voice, the fireworks whenever things did not go his character's way, but they were all in valuable service to a plot that had something important to say and never resorted to having Pacino or Crowe lecturing the audience. Indeed, it was about an hour into the drama before we found out what the big secret Wigand was trying to expose about the tobacco companies was.

That secret being that the heads of the companies, in spite of testifying otherwise, were in full knowledge that their product was a death-dealing and addictive drug, and to make matters worse, they were researching ways to make it more addictive to ensure sales remained high. Essentially they were killing their customers, and had to be convincing enough to fresh meat that they should try their chances with cigarettes - once tried, it was the corporations' dream that they would be hooked for life, however shortened that would be. But after Wigand recorded his whistleblowing interview with Sixty Minutes, the powers in tobacco, and shockingly in the businesses they had influence in - like the news show's sponsors, CBS, for example - fought to not only keep him quiet but ruin his life.

Wigand notices himself being followed, gets silent phone calls, strangers waiting outside his house at night, and eventually death threats which lead to a smear campaign as Mann makes the point that if you choose to speak out against injustice, you'd better be prepared for your own reputation to be put through the wringer because under the type of scrutiny that modern media in the wrong hands is able to drum up, they can make anyone look guilty and/or a liar. While The Insider looked on the surface to be championing the kind of crusading journalism that put it on a par with All the President's Men, actually it had more in common with those seventies paranioa movies like The Parallax View as a cynicism took over. Yes, it says, the little guys won this time, but look at the cost, and look at the drubbing that a respected source of news, of supposed truth, received. It was probably Michael Mann's best work, and in its way, very sobering at that. Music by Pieter Bourke and Lisa Gerrard.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Mann  (1943 - )

American writer/director whose flashy, dramatic style has made for considerable commerical success on the big and small screen. After writing for television during the late 70s, he made his debut with the thriller Thief. The Keep was a failed horror adaptation, but Mann's TV cop show Miami Vice was a massive international success, while 1986's Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, was one of the decade's best thrillers.

Last of the Mohicans was a rip-roaring period adventure, Heat a dynamic if overlong cops 'n' robbers story, and The Insider a gripping real-life conspiracy thriller. 2002's Ali, Mann's much-touted biography of the legendary boxer, was a bit of an anti-climax, but as ever, stylishly rendered. Mann's next film was the thriller Collateral, starring Tom Cruise as a ruthless contract killer, and his big screen updating of Miami Vice divided opinion, as did his vintage gangster recreation Public Enemies. His cyber-thriller Blackhat was a resounding flop.

 
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