Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
In 1996, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand's world was crumbling into ashes. His six-figure income, his disintegrating marriage, his home and his life were forever changed when he was fired from the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company. Doggedly, he tried to make the best of it. He got a job teaching high school chemistry and moved his family into a smaller house. Even at this low-key level, he was still a threat to Brown and Williamson and was pressured to sign a sweeping non-disclosure agreement regarding his employment with the company. Meanwhile, television producer Lowell Bergman was pressuring him to talk with "60 Minutes" on the record. To say that "The Insider" is about a twenty minute news segment is like saying that "Citizen Kane" is about a newspaper publisher's obituary.
"The Insider" is one of the most spine-tingling thrillers you will ever see and the credit is largely due to the criminally underrated writer/director Michael Mann. Mann, who helmed the superb 1986 film noir "Manhunter," is an expert at drawing our attention to the blood-chilling menace that lies just beyond the frame. In one effective sequence, Dr. Wigand is awakened by his daughter about a prowler. He goes in the back yard and sees and hears physical evidence of an intruder everywhere. There is no confrontation, and thus no release of tension. He's fighting enemies he can't touch, but who do their best to destroy his life. Dr. Wigand, magnificently played by a nearly unrecognizable Russell Crowe, is at the center of a media firestorm about the tobacco industry's great lie. Cigarettes are not addictive, the heads of seven tobacco companies testify.
As a scientist and an insider, Dr. Wigand knows that not only are cigarettes addictive, but that Brown and Williamson is in the business of making them even more addictive. Who else but addicts would buy and consume a product identified as poison by the Surgeon General? It's a sizzling hot story and Lowell Bergman, beautifully played by Al Pacino, knows it. Pacino, who won an Oscar nomination playing the whistle-blowing cop "Serpico" in 1973, is every bit as passionate 26 years later. At sixty, he isn't hard-boiled or jaded and he approaches his work with the no-holds-barred intensity of a beginner. The supporting cast (Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as Don Hewitt, Colm Feore as Richard Scruggs, Rip Torn as John Scanlon, Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore as himself and the great Irish actor Michael Gambon as quintessential Southerner Thomas Sandefur) is wonderfully well cast. Dante Spinotti's cinematography is both harshly realistic and eerily dream-like. Try blinking once during the 160 minute running time. I couldn't. "The Insider," is my pick for Best Picture of 1999.
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 11/10/99
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