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Worth A Look: 39.84%
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10 reviews, 68 user ratings

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Insider, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Crackling, diverting whistle-blower drama."
4 stars

You can have a pretty good time with 'The Insider' while recognizing that it's essentially a high-toned rabble-rouser. It has a buzz of excitement and complexity -- the sense that we're seeing the actual back-room decisions that affect lives.

In 1995, 60 Minutes taped an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a former higher-up researcher at the tobacco company Brown & Williamson. Wigand had some scarier-than-average insights to share about the billionaire tobacconists, mainly the fact that they were inserting ammonia into their cigarettes to provide the consumer with a faster "fix." It had been part of common knowledge for decades that cigarettes are hazardous and addictive; here was a guy who told exactly how and why. Except he almost didn't. At the last minute, CBS blinked and aired a significantly altered version of the interview, and the story became not only that B&W was covering up, but that CBS was covering up, despite the loud protests of segment producer Lowell Bergman and the vacillating Mike Wallace, who conducted the interview and, according to the film, was torn between journalistic integrity and his desire not to bring CBS down with a fatal lawsuit from B&W.

The nice thing about The Insider is that it seems legitimately interested in the thorny ethical issues it raises. There may be clearcut villains here (Michael Gambon, as the representative tobacco CEO, may as well have a mustache to twirl), but there are no easy heroes. Bergman (Al Pacino) is a grandstander, a tunnel-visioned idealist who worships at the altar of his own integrity; Wigand (Russell Crowe) is a pinched, irritable man, soft in the middle, who has gotten too accustomed to the easy flow of tobacco money. We see these men in harsh light, observe their flaws, and gradually watch them discover their strengths. Though at heart it's another David-and-Goliath saga, these Davids have a lot of baggage to cast off -- ego, paranoia -- before they can effectively fight the giant.

At an earlier stage in his career, Al Pacino might have played Wigand, or someone like him, and of course he did (Serpico). Here he's the noisy fly of conscience buzzing around the head of the true hero, and though the movie is constructed as Bergman's story -- his struggle, his fight to get Wigand on the air -- Pacino plays his end close to the vest, exploding only at key moments, when explosions are called for. He essentially (and subtly) plays Bergman as if he were the supporting actor, regardless of his top billing; he understands that it's really Russell Crowe's movie.

I've been enjoying Crowe's work a lot longer than most people, who seem to think he materialized out of nowhere for L.A. Confidential; as far back as 1992 he was low-key and impressive (and also funny, which he rarely is now, sad to say) in the Australian import Proof, where he starred opposite Hugo Weaving (The Matrix). One senses, in Crowe's recent performances, a reserve of bottomless anger barely held in check. Is this due to the frustration of a decade in relative obscurity despite his fine work? (L.A. Confidential wasn't the big hit that might have broken him out.) In The Insider, Crowe's Jeffrey Wigand is on constant low simmer -- the only time you really see him relax is when he's with his wife (Diane Venora) and two little daughters -- and his eruptions are mesmerizing, the bleats of a wounded soft-bellied animal (Crowe put on some weight for the role) with the added power of a defensive lion. Wigand knows all too well that his status as a family man -- what makes him care about what the tobacco industry is doing -- is precisely what makes him a vulnerable target. When he first senses that his family is being threatened, you can almost hear the blood gurgling into his head.

This electric, fleet-footed drama has been brought to you by Michael Mann, of whose previous work (particularly the lugubrious Heat, also with Pacino) I'm not overly fond. In the past, Mann has designed his movies as kinetic ideas on display -- abstract men at war. Here, miraculously, Mann generally drops the vague nonsense and digs in with both hands. There's still a bit of hey-look-Ma-I'm-a-director in his style -- shots held for a tad longer than they need to be; an ongoing fetish for massive close-ups -- but he puts the style in service of the script. Mann wrote it with Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), and perhaps the presence of a collaborator helped to rein Mann in, to keep him attentive to the friction of emotion.

The moviemakers don't pretend that the story will end happily; indeed, the very necessity for the movie itself is proof that Wigand and Bergman didn't succeed as well as they'd hoped, since Wigand is not exactly a household name. At best, he was simply one more whistle-blower watched by millions on a lazy Sunday evening, confirming what everyone already knew about the greedy bastards running the tobacco industry (or any industry).

Like Oliver Stone in 'JFK,' Mann may be saying that one lone, crazy, discredited man speaking out against official lies might just be enough. But enough for what? In the movie, we don't see anyone watching the interview and rising up in indignation, and chances are they won't watch the movie and do that, either. The heroes of the movie seem to know this. They haven't lost the fight, but they haven't really won, either.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2773&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/20/07 23:59:13
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User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell overlong but scary they could do this to you 4 stars
3/16/13 Chris F Very good kept me interested right the way through 4 stars
10/02/12 decay I was transfixed the very first time I watched it. Top performances from Crowe and Pacino 5 stars
1/27/11 taker one of the greatest movies ever made 5 stars
8/17/08 mr.mike Good , if slightly overlong (Mann usually is). 4 stars
6/10/07 al smith incredible that american beauty beat this gem at the oscars 5 stars
7/04/06 Indrid Cold Whip smart and emotionally satisfying. Better than Network. 4 stars
10/29/05 Shenny S. Great performance by Crowe. 5 stars
8/19/05 ES This movie made me start smoking after having quit for a year, now that's power! 4 stars
1/04/05 Steve Newman Top class film - Wigand is an awesome man 5 stars
9/30/04 Archanist_101 Good film + it was worth seeing Gina Gershon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/11/04 Ath Not bad, bit lond and winded 3 stars
11/29/03 john gripping drama and superb acting - this one is great! 5 stars
7/05/03 Jack Sommersby Deeply flawed yet supremely entertaining. Great acting all around. 4 stars
6/08/03 Jon Lyrik Awesome movie. 5 stars
5/06/03 Layla Russell Crowe is great 4 stars
2/11/03 The Man No, it's far superior to All the President's Men. 5 stars
11/27/02 Karen total CRAP!!!!!!! 1 stars
9/09/02 BrodieMan Superb ! 5 stars
3/08/02 David Coates A great film. Should have beat American Beauty in the oscars race 5 stars
11/15/01 The Alter Ego This is one exceptionally beautiful piece of work by Michael Mann 5 stars
11/09/01 Steve Marquardt stunning cinematography , egde of your seat drama, fantasic editing and acting all-around 5 stars
8/28/01 Phil M. Afficianado very strong entertainment but it is a lot more than that too. see it. 5 stars
7/23/01 Monster W. Kung "All the president's men" it's not. 3 stars
6/13/01 Mattshat Michael Mann can do no wrong: a riveting 3 hours 5 stars
4/22/01 blllllssssstttttt I Literally slept through most of the movie 1 stars
4/04/01 Hawkeye Check it out, if only to see an amazing performance by Crowe. 5 stars
2/26/01 Elvisfan Crowe miscast; interesting movie that took WAAAY too long to make its points 3 stars
2/05/01 Classicdog Great writing, great acting, great movie. Russell Crowe is terrific in this flick. 4 stars
12/16/00 Mitja Podgajski very good... !! 4 stars
12/15/00 Stewart Ball The best film of 1999. The dialogue is very informative, interesting, and insightful. 5 stars
11/02/00 Cristopher Revilla Smart, Inteliigent, one of the best films of the year!!! 5 stars
10/08/00 Sas Filmed in an eerie way which spooked me. It was great. 4 stars
10/03/00 Leigh Whittaker It was splendiferously great 5 stars
8/26/00 Nanale inspirational for people who live by truth 5 stars
7/31/00 piz slow at times but engaging and gripping..an acting masterpiece. 4 stars
7/04/00 Bruce A superb piece of moviemaking 5 stars
7/04/00 Chris Drake Russell Crowe conveys more info w/one eyebrow than all of filmdom combined-mesmerizing! 5 stars
6/20/00 Dawn Ogden-Barnes A gripping movie. Once again Russell Crowe proves he is jaw-droppingly talented. 5 stars
5/20/00 Steve Kelley Christopher Plummer IS Mike Wallace. 5 stars
4/17/00 Howard West I loved it. I'm a big Russel Crowe fan since LA Confidential 5 stars
4/12/00 punkass Not just interesting & involving, a genuinley important movie 5 stars
3/14/00 Matthew Bartley Excellent thriller considering the subject matter 5 stars
3/08/00 Booyah! A very solid piece of work. Short on big thrills, but heavy on the interest. 5 stars
3/07/00 Pierce Lanson Hey Bitchslap!!-R. Crowe(Australia-N.Z.) is in the cast!!! GREAT film! 5 stars
3/05/00 Captain Highcrime My personal favorite of '99. Engrossing subj. matter, stellar performances & a killer sdtk. 5 stars
3/04/00 Malbert Very impressive, Pacino and Crowe were just *amazing* 5 stars
2/27/00 Tristan why is Russell Crowe's name not at the top - he was brilliant 5 stars
2/22/00 Joel Harwood It dragged on a bit i think AL PACINO should also be nominated 5 stars
2/14/00 Germanicus Pacino is good but Crowe disgusts me. Mann makes best of boring subject. 3 stars
1/28/00 Matthew Smith a rivetting film, superb performances from the two leads 5 stars
1/27/00 Mic Superior drama - up there with Quiz Show and All the President's Men. 5 stars
12/12/99 Beno Pacino at his best! 5 stars
12/11/99 Tyson Stewart It has a cool ambiance and great acting! Some scenes are unimportant. 4 stars
12/10/99 Heather Great, compelling movie, Plummer gave a convincing perf. of Mike Wallace 5 stars
12/09/99 schmegs Great film, really wonderful performances 5 stars
11/29/99 Bueller One of the best films of 1999. Al Pacino's performance has Oscar written all over it. 5 stars
11/28/99 Chet Patel Great acting, I was suprised by Crowe, and Pacino didn't over dramatize his role. 4 stars
11/17/99 Janet Plummer should clear a space on his bookshelf for his Oscar. 5 stars
11/16/99 Jason T. Hollett Russell Crowe infuses this movie with an atmosphere that is its overarching achievement. 5 stars
11/13/99 Kevin Cho, movie-buff Great movie, much tension - simply a great movie. 5 stars
11/13/99 Lame-Oh outstanding, better than that trash Double Jeporady 5 stars
11/09/99 MAXOMENOS Stunningly well done. Out-suspenses Hitchcock, out-trips The Matrix. 5 stars
11/08/99 pipeman A bit long, but brilliant nonetheless. Well written, acted, directed. Excellent film! 5 stars
11/07/99 Cy Phlurm Pacino, Plummer, and Crowe just serve to crowd the Best Actor Oscar race even more 4 stars
11/07/99 Jackie Martin Long, but very engaging. Well told and acted. 5 stars
11/06/99 Roman A long movie but it pulls you in (watching Pacino get pissed is damn entertaining) 5 stars
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  05-Nov-1999 (R)


  26-Jan-2000 (M)

Directed by
  Michael Mann

Written by
  Michael Mann
  Eric Roth

  Russell Crowe
  Al Pacino
  Diane Venora
  Debi Mazar
  Philip Baker Hall

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