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The Insider

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Insider

Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe
Director: Michael Mann
Rated: R
RunTime: 158 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar, Robbie G. Tomlin, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Rip Torn

Review by Greg King
4 stars out of 4

Director Michael Mann's first film since the brilliant Heat is a wonderfully gripping and intelligent true life drama about the scientist who blew the whistle on the tobacco companies for tv's 60 Minutes.

When he is unfairly dismissed from tobacco company Brown and Williamson, scientist Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) eventually told a 60 Minutes news team that the tobacco companies had been lying for years about the dangers of smoking. But then the tobacco industry began a massive smear campaign, dragging Wigand's life through the mud in an effort to discredit him and his testimony. When even CBS eventually bowed to enormous legal pressure and failed to air the damaging interview, veteran investigative reporter and 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) fought back to protect Wigand and the right of the public to know the truth. It was a protracted and heated dispute that shook up the landmark television news show and tested old loyalties.

This is probably the best drama featuring journalists as heroic characters and newsmakers, pursuing a momentous story, since All The President's Men. The Insider is suspenseful, riveting stuff, but it also has a strong emotional punch. With this searing look at corporate America out of control, Mann is dealing with some weighty and important themes - big business ethics, greed, corruption, heavy moral dilemmas, journalistic integrity, freedom of the press.

Mann directs with a commendable sense of restraint. Mann uses a pseudo-documentary style, to give the film a sense of urgency, which is highly effective at times. But the hand held camera work becomes a bit tiresome and there are a few scenes that could have been tightened up in the editing room. There are also a number of characters who come and go without making much of an impact.

However, The Insider is driven by two powerhouse, Oscar-worthy central performances. Pacino is intense and believable as the dogged and disenchanted Bergman, and delivers one of his best performances for quite some time. Heavily made up, Crowe delivers a stand out performance as Wigand, who acts out of conscience and then helplessly watches as his life and reputation are systematically destroyed. He brings a wonderfully nervous edge, quiet honesty and dignity to his performance.

Women often get short shrift in Mann's overtly masculine films, but Diane Venora (from Heat, etc) is impressive as Wigand's long suffering wife. And Christopher Plummer (who often has a reputation for publicly slagging off at his films) is terrific as veteran journalist Mike Wallace, bringing a pompous air but also an intelligence to his role.

Unfortunately, The Insider wasn't a huge success in the US, which may affect its chances at the Oscars. However, this is a rare example of Hollywood producing a gripping and intelligent drama that is also relevant, and it should be put at the head of the list of must see films of this year.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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