The Insider (1999) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 157 min.

Cast: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora
Director: Michael Mann
Screenplay: Eric Roth

Review published May 5, 2000

In the quietest of ways, director Michael Mann (Heat, Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter) has been putting together an impressive career of quality films. Even more impressive is the fact that he co-writes and produces his own material, and he is so successful at it that it almost becomes a double-edged sword for us as viewers. On the one hand, he clearly has creative control of almost every aspect of his films, but on the other, wearing so many hats is so time consuming that he is only able to churn out a film about once every three or four years. Luckily when he does get one out there, it's well worth the wait.

His latest is The Insider, which relates the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe, Mystery Alaska), a former tobacco executive-turned-industry whistle-blower who was drawn out by "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino, The Devil's Advocate), in the infamous "60 Minutes" broadcast that was truncated because corporate bigwigs flinched at the threat of a lawsuit. The information that Wigand has to offer goes beyond the fact that people in the tobacco industry knowingly lied when they state that nicotine is not addictive, but that they deliberately attempted to increase the addictiveness of cigarettes, even making them more unhealthy to increase maximum potency. Matters are greatly complicated by a confidentiality agreement Wigand signed before being fired, death threats to Wigand and his family, crazy laws which make it difficult to get this kind of information out, and the serious burden places on Wigand's life and family.

Just as impressive as the direction by Mann are the two lead actors, with Pacino in as fine a form as ever as well as Russell Crowe almost unrecognizable in the finest performance of his career. It's a long film at 2 hours and 40 minutes, and the perfect build-up of the first half doesn't pay off as successfully in the last half, but the story is so engrossing, most viewers may not even notice the excessive length and minor flaws. Christopher Plummer (Twelve Monkeys, Wolf) makes a great Mike Wallace, and as a peek behind the scenes of the politics of a news program, it's just as fascinating as Wigand's story itself.

The Insider deservedly received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crowe), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Sound. It didn't win any, and that's a shame for Russell Crowe, who lost out the year's best male lead performance to Kevin Spacey (American Beauty). This is definitely one of the best films of 1999, and needless to say, a must-see not only because of it's message but the fact that it's one of the most well-made and riveting movies in the 90s.

Qwipster's rating:

2000 Vince Leo