Judge Clark Douglas bravely agreed to speak on television, but no one was interested in booking him as a guest.
Our review of The Insider, published April 26th, 2000, is also available.
Two men driven to tell the truth…whatever the cost.
"Fame has a fifteen-minute half-life; infamy lasts a little longer."
Facts of the Case
For years, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino, The Godfather) has been one of television's most tireless and innovative producers. He's been doing strong work for 60 Minutes, taking care of endless problems and securing difficult interview subjects for host Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music). When Bergman needs help decoding some scientific documents on tobacco, he asks former Brown & Williamson executive and esteemed scientist Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) for assistance. Wigand reluctantly agrees to meet with Bergman, but soon finds himself facing harsh consequences. Brown & Williamson asks Wigand to sign an even stricter confidentiality agreement than the one he was forced to sign when he was unceremoniously and unjustifiably fired. Wigand angrily refuses, which causes his former employers to cut off his severance payments.
Wigand accuses Bergman of betraying him; an accusation the honorable producer adamantly denies. After discovering that Wigand may be sitting on some big secrets regarding corruption in the tobacco industry, Bergman begins attempting to convince the scientist to sit down for an in-depth interview with Mike Wallace. Wigand eventually agrees to trust Bergman and do the interview, but alas, the situation proves more challenging than anyone involved ever anticipated. Brown & Williamson strikes back with a vengeance, working tirelessly to destroy Wigand's reputation and prevent the interview from hitting the airwaves. Will the truth ever be permitted to come to light?
Over the past couple of decades, director Michael Mann has evenly divided his time between smart crime movies for grown-ups (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies) and prestigious Oscar bait (The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Ali, Public Enemies again). While I tend to prefer Mann's films in the former category as a general rule, The Insider might just be the high point of his exceptional career. It's a deeply absorbing drama that delivers three tremendous performances and a searing examination of just how difficult the simple act of doing the right thing can be.
On a moral level, the case presented in The Insider is pretty black-and-white: Brown & Williamson is secretly tweaking cigarettes to make them more addictive, and Wigand wants to expose them. Still, telling the truth can prove remarkably complicated when that truth could cost wealthy people a significant portion of their wealth. Mann's film explores the suffocating culture of corporate greed with detailed clarity. One expects Brown & Williamson to fight Wigand's testimony from being released, but Bergman's biggest opponent proves to be the executives at CBS (who waffle on airing the interview for fear of massive lawsuits) while Wigand's most surprising foe is his own wife (who wishes he would just drop the whole thing, sign the confidentiality agreement and return to normal life). The basic argument the film makes is a persuasive, level-headed one: being honest and honorable is neither profitable nor easy, but it remains absolutely essential. It's telling that despite the fact that Bergman wants nothing more than to give people the opportunity to hear the truth, his colleagues regard him as an obstinate extremist. We live in a world where moral compromise is standard operating procedure.
Mann offers quite a few close-ups throughout The Insider, perhaps for the sake of highlighting just what a toll this saga takes on its central characters. Bergman and Wigand look like weary men from the beginning, but their faces are visual essays on despair by the time the film reaches its third act. The ambient music, moody palette and intimate cinematography effectively accentuates the oppressive nature of the world these characters inhabit. There may not be any explosive shoot-outs, but Mann's direction is just as stylish and distinct as ever. As is usually the case with Mann, the stylishness effectively serves the story rather than simply being included for its own sake.
Another of Mann's strengths is his ability to bring out the best in the actors he employs, and he certainly does that in this case. Al Pacino has indulged in hammy theatricality on a fairly regular basis in the later portion of his career, but here delivers a determined, thoroughly persuasive performance. His Bergman is the driving force of the film; the man whose relentless desire to live up to his own standards keeps everyone around him from simply caving in to exterior pressures. Crowe is a marvel in his Oscar-nominated turn as Wigand, fusing the simmering rage of his L.A. Confidential performance with the quiet intelligence and social clumsiness he would later explore in A Beautiful Mind. Though Crowe's combination of poor role choices and uninspired performances have caused many to write him off in recent days, The Insider is a striking reminder of just how much he's capable of. Finally, there's a fantastic supporting turn from Christopher Plummer, whose uncanny take on Wallace perfectly fuses warmth, cantankerousness, diplomacy, authoritativeness and ego.
The Insider (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that does this visually ambitious film justice. Depth is terrific throughout, shadow delineation is strong and detail is superb (you can see every bit of stubble on Crowe's increasingly weathered face). While some of Mann's other efforts haven't really gotten the knockout transfers they deserve (I'm looking at you, Miami Vice), this one is nothing short of exceptional. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly impressive, further accentuating what an important role the score by Lisa Gerard and Pieter Bourke plays in giving the film a distinctive vibe. The music is immersive and rich, dialogue is clean and sound design is well-distributed. Supplements are disappointing, though: all you get is an EPK-style making-of featurette (7 minutes) and a trailer. Ignore the claims of the Blu-ray case, which suggests that the disc contains an audio commentary with Pacino and Crowe and also promises an "Inside A Scene" featurette. Sadly, these promising-sounding items are nowhere to be found.
While the lack of decent bonus materials is disappointing, I'm quite pleased that Michael Mann's superb drama has finally gotten an otherwise strong hi-def release. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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