The Insider (1999; directed by Michael Mann)

The story is a fascinating one, about "60 Minutes" filming a segment on the tobacco industry's dishonesty, and then deciding not to air it when it conflicted with CBS' corporate plans. The main characters are Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), the producer of the segment, and Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), the former Brown & Williamson scientist who reveals how the tobacco companies manipulated the nicotine level in cigarettes, and how they lied about it.

Lowell Bergman is a journalist/saint, and despite Pacino's impassioned portrayal, it's difficult to get excited about him since he seems way too good to be true.

Jeffrey Wigand, however, is a far more interesting and compelling character, and it's too bad that the movie ends up being more about Bergman and less about its title character. Wigand is taciturn (sometimes to the point of being surly), uncommunicative with his wife, and obstinate in his relations with others. Early on in the film, each of the two major characters emphasizes to the other that he keeps his word. Bergman makes a big Al Pacino speech about how while Wigand has been spending his time at corporate golf tournaments, Bergman has been out in the world, giving his word and backing it up, and so on. Wigand simply says, "I made an agreement. I keep agreements."

Russell Crowe is wonderful (he deserved the Oscar that his LA Confidential costar won, by the way), as is Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. There's a wonderful scene right at the beginning of the movie where Wallace throws a prima donna snit right before a major interview just to get himself pumped up and ready to work.

The film is far from perfect, even apart from the limitations of Pacino's character. It is a little over-long, and the use of music is sometimes heavy-handed. There are several scenes where the music is quite overwrought, attempting to create a mood which has already been created quite successfully by the actors and the story. But it is well worth seeing, both for the performances and for the story it tells.

Also Recommended:

With Russell Crowe: L.A. Confidential

With Al Pacino: Donnie Brasco

Best of 1999 / Best of the Decade

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