Possibly the best movie ever made based on a news article, The Insider is the story of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand
(Russell Crowe of L.A. Confidential, Virtuosity and The Quick and the Dead), a medical researcher for cigarette
company Brown & Williamson, and Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino, who also starred in Heat, which was also directed by
Michael Mann), TV producer for the news program "60 Minutes." Wigand knows that his company deliberately
manufactured cigarettes to make them as addictive as possible, but is constrained from telling anyone by a strict
confidentiality agreement which he was forced to sign. But it's more than just a legal reprisal that Wigand fears--
he thinks the company may even commit physical violence against him and his family (although it is suggested that
this could, partially at least, be only a product of Wigand's paranoia). Bergman, who has an unerring ability to
spot a juicy story, discovers that Wigand has something he wants to say and finally convinces him to do an interview
with Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer of Star Trek VI and Twelve Monkeys) for "60 Minutes," despite the many real
and imagined dangers. When ABC folds under pressure from the cigarette companies and doesn't air the show, Bergman
fights back, both to preserve his own journalistic integrity, and in defense of Wigand, who has risked his marriage,
his reputation, and his life to tell the truth.
Mann and Dante Spinotti deserve their respective Oscar nominations for direction and cinematography--the
visual artistry of this film is truly impressive, and combined with the tight, intense dialogue of the Oscar-
nominated screenplay, it makes for a starkly and powerfully realistic film. A nomination also went to Crowe for
his tense, complex performance as Dr. Wigand, but really all the acting in this film is excellent (although
admittedly Crowe is one of the few people in the movie, and perhaps in the world, who makes convincing use of a
fake accent). Even secondary parts are filled by impressive talents, like Philip Baker Hall (Jimmy Gator in
Magnolia; he also appears in some capacity in just about every other movie that's out now) as Don Hewitt, one of
Bergman's superiors at ABC.
But despite all the various talents that went into this film, it's the hand of director Michael Mann that
is most evident. This is undeniably his film. Like Mann's Heat, The Insider is, at its heart, the story of two
men (one of whom is Al Pacino, in both movies) who have a great deal of personal integrity and an almost unswerving
loyalty to themselves and their convictions. In both films, these men are put to the test, and are asked to
balance their own happiness and safety against their ideals. It is a difficult emotional struggle, but in the
end Mann's men always stay true to their ideals, no matter what the cost. In Heat, the characters of Pacino and
De Niro fight each other to the death, despite the fact that each one sees in the other a mirror image of himself.
They do this because they have to, because one of them is a cop and the other is a thief, and they cannot betray
these essential truths about themselves. In The Insider, the characters of Pacino and Crowe find themselves in a
similar dilemma, although rather than being turned against each other, they are both turned against the repressive
mechanism of big business. Both want to speak out, to tell the secret truths that they are privy to, and both are
being pressured towards silence by the immoral hypocrites that they work for. If we look at them this way, it
becomes clear that the title of the film refers not just to Wigand, but to Bergman as well--they are both insiders
trying to get out, trying to communicate their inside information to the rest of the world. And only together can
they find the strength to fight on against their amorphous, overpowering opponent.
Sound a little corny? Well, okay, it is. It's Mann's version of the whole male bonding thing. Mann
usually makes action movies with chase scenes and fights because he is a man making movies for men. The only parts
that women seem able to play in his world are those of facilitators or anti-facilitators--they either help their
men or hinder them, and that's it. Bergman's woman friend at work, for instance, is a tireless worker, always
ready at any time of day to retrieve any bit of obscure information he might need. And his wife is the same--
sympathetic, helpful, and always firmly by his side. But neither seem to have separate personalities or goals
of their own. As for Wigand's women, they are the opposite--they do not help him, but hinder him; they do not stay
with him in his troubles, but abandon him. And that's all they do, and that's all they are. This rather narrow
portrait of women certainly doesn't kill the film, but it is a little disappointing. I know Michael Mann is a
talented filmmaker with the ability to create beautiful portraits of complex men. I just hope that next time he
can throw in a few complex women, too.
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