The Insider


Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by:Eric Roth
Starring: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Gina Gershon, Rip Torn
Released: January 26, 2000
Grade: A

The Insider has been a work in progress for director Michael Mann since the day these events unfolded.  After finishing Heat, Mann met Lowell Bergman and they became close friends but it wasn’t until the suggestion of a Disney executive that triggered their idea - hey, we’ve got a movie here!

In 1993, scientist Jeffrey Wigand was fired from his $300,000 a year job at Brown & Williamson (a U.S. Tobacco company) for “communication problems”.  He was left with a mediocre severance package and signed a confidentiality agreement agreeing never to divulge to any party the work he performed there.  At the same time, Lowell Bergman was a producer at 60 Minutes with 14 years experience.  He was renowned as the best at finding a story and had a reputation as a “man of his word”.

While researching a story on fire-related accidents in February 1994, Bergman came across some complex documents that would require interpretation and by sheer chance, Wigand was recommended.  He was to be paid $10,000 for a few days work but Bergman sensed Wigand was hiding something and thus the biggest news story in the history of 60 Minutes began.

Michael Mann has created a near flawless work in The Insider.  No stone was left unturned.  He researched the project for over three years and what you see is perhaps the most accurate portrayal of real events ever seen on the big screen.  His own house is lined with folders full of reports, articles and interviews he himself conducted.  In tackling an issue this serious and significant, Mann wanted to ensure his film would not be discredited and that the real truth be told.

The wide cast is led by Al Pacino and Russell Crowe (as Bergman and Wigand) and you will go far to see two finer performances.  Combined with Christopher Plummer’s (as 60 Minutes anchorman Mike Wallace) blistering portrayal, they take this film to a new level.  There isn’t a single character throughout the film that isn’t believable - it really is the casting job of the year.

Mann’s direction is spot on - it’s tough, it’s gritty, it’s in your face - right to the poignant final scene.  Australian composer Lisa Gerrard’s score blends well and is easy to miss it’s that perfect.  Filled with wonderful, unforgettable moments and brilliant lines (e.g. “Alice In Wonderland”), you will not leave without taking something away.  It took a while to get going and sure it could have been shorter but Mann wanted to set the scene and yes, it was effective.

In essence, this film is not about the dangers of tobacco smoking but rather the power corporate giants have over the media and us.  People don’t run the world - corporations do.  The Insider was a story that had to be told and upon reflection, couldn’t have been told much better.