With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
The Insider (1999)
Michael Mann has built up quite a reputation in Hollywood over the last two decades with notable films like the masterpiece Heat (1995), Collateral (2004) and Public Enemies (2009). I found The Insider amongst Mrs B’s DVD collection and was intrigued by a film that paired Russell Crowe with cinema legend Al Pacino who had previously worked with Mann in Heat. Having enjoyed three previous films by Mann I was only too happy to sample more of his work.
Based on a true story, The Insider follows the plight of Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) who is fired from his job at Brown and Williamson, a tobacco company. Elsewhere journalist, Lowell Bergman (Pacino) comes into receipt of an anonymous package containing documents relating to tobacco company, Philip Morris. Unable to understand the documentation Bergman is referred to Wigand for translation of the documents. When a reluctant Wigand does meet Bergman he is very cautious in the information he can give, assuring Bergman he will say no more than what is in the document. Bergman suspects something is amiss and over time learns that Wigand has not only been fired from his job at Brown and Williamson but that he has information that could severely damage the company’s reputation and that they will resort to anything to keep Wigand quiet.
Mann is good at getting great performances out of his actors. Pacino delivers another decent performance without quite reaching the heights of Heat or The Godfather. Crowe is undoubtedly the star of the show, depicting a man pushed to the limits by persecution from Brown and Williamson that leads to anxiety, paranoia and uncharacteristic aggression. The level that Brown and Williamson descend to against Wigand is appalling. As part of his being fired he is informed to keep quiet or risk losing severance pay, medical coverage that benefits his asthmatic daughter, and he is also faced with the prospect of legal proceedings. After initially speaking to Bergman, Wigand is summoned to Brown and Williamson once again to sign a tighter more severe contract to ensure his silence. Believing Bergman has spoken to Brown and Williamson, Wigand accuses the journalist of treachery but is assured by Bergman’s response that he has spoken to no one. What follows is a build up of torment and strain on Wigand, particularly his relationship with his wife Liane (Diane Venora), and a dilemma in the form of an interview for 60 Minutes that Bergman insists Wigand should do to expose the sinister dealing of Brown and Williamson and Big Tobacco, that encompasses many companies.
The Insider can be a difficult film at times. I found it quite slow to get going and although I was intrigued throughout by Crowe and Pacino’s performances I didn’t feel much happened until an hour into the film. At 150 minutes it’s a long film to sit through for the meagre action in the opening segments. That said Mann creates tension extremely well. No sooner has Wigand been fired from his job than he is being watched by mystery figures in cars and at a golf driving range, while his move to a new home with his family sees him having to head outside in the middle of the night where fresh footprints are visible in the soil and he later finds a bullet in the mail box. Taking a teaching post at a nearby school, Wigand does try to rebuild his life but the shadow of the tobacco scandal hangs over him continuously and after relenting with Bergman and doing an interview for 60 Minutes things only get worse. Watching the dodgy dealings of Big Tobacco was absorbing but also made one angry at the slimy nature of lawyers. While Wigand is faced with the prospect of prison if he testifies, Bergman’s network CBS is also faced with legal proceedings if they assist Wigand in breaking his contractual obligations. While Wigand is pushed to breaking point, Bergman is also left disillusioned with his own job while trying to do the right thing and helping Wigand but being told by his superiors that they cannot risk financial ruin and years of legal pandemonium.
After a slow start, The Insider does become an engaging film as Wigand’s ordeal reaches court. These legal proceedings are, however, quite brief where normally I would have expected a typical Hollywood courtroom drama as we hear both sides of the story before a jury delivers its verdict. Towards the end of the film Wigand is at his lowest point while Bergman is also left with nothing. It all points to a surprising but miserable conclusion. Those familiar with the true story, of course, will know there was some consolation for Wigand and Bergman but this is all revealed in the final few minutes, most of it courtesy of some text prior to the end credits. As satisfying as the outcome is I found after 150 minutes I had waited a long time for such a rushed ending.
The Insider is an effective thriller largely due to Pacino but, in particular, Crowe’s Oscar-nominated performance. Though an interesting depiction of an appalling act of cruelty against one man, I found the film too long for what was there. Fans of Mann should definitely not miss this, but if you’re wanting to sample the director’s best films then Heat is undoubtedly the one you should be heading for.
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