The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999)


Al Pacino (Lowell Bergman), Russell Crowe (Jeffrey Wigand), Christopher Plummer (Mike Wallace). Screenplay by Eric Roth and Michael Mann. Directed by Michael Mann. Rating: 15. Running time: 157 minutes.

I have watched The Insider at least five times now, and yet I still never fail to be amazed by its story. Like Eastwood’s Changeling, you hope the world is not as absurd as these films insist it is, despite all evidence being to the contrary. You hope we haven’t arranged the law in such a way that a man can make millions by making poisonous things more addictive, before being tied up with a confidentiality agreement meaning he can only regretfully expose to the public, for the public, the truth of what he did by accepting court gags and general legal warfare. And yet that was exactly the plight of Jeffrey Wigand, a scientist at big tobacco firm Brown & Williamson, who saw divorce, stalkers, death threats, destabilising pay cuts, potential prison sentences and smear campaigns, all in the space of a year, because of his wish to finally say exactly what he couldn’t.

Russell Crowe is excellent here, as an ordinary yet slightly psychotic man in extraordinary circumstances. But Al Pacino is equally stunning, as the journalist for CBS’ 60 Minutes who helps him to talk. Both men go through absolute hell; the former of a personal nature, the latter because his job and employer is supposed to be drunk on the kind of integrity that the tobacco industry can only dream of. It turns out CBS were as reluctant to air Wigand’s words as anyone was, because of the potential for litigation from Brown & Williamson under the charge of ‘tortuous interference’ – suing for damages resulting from their encouraging of someone to damage them. It’s Bergman alone that’s on to the absurdity of the whole situation; only he recognises the absolute madness of a respectable news corporation refusing to air what somebody says because they are telling the truth, and it’s damn important. The Insider gives us a peek at the media and legal processes governing this crazy world, as two sane men each steer their way through insanity. The result, eventually, is the kind of information being released which led to the incredible $246bn settlement between big tobacco and Medicaid for damages to the latter. If the truth doesn’t drive you crazy, The Insider will leave you in awe of its characters and its story, and the acting that makes it so real.

One Response to “The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999)”

  1. 1 Sterling

    LOVE this one. Michael Mann at his best.

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