I suppose it's poetic justice that a film by the great director Michael Mann is finally getting MORE credit than it deserves. Perhaps because he made his fame as the innovative television producer of "Miami Vice" and "Crime Story," Mann's big screen efforts, while respectfully received, have not gotten their due.
The director of one of the best crime films of all time, "Thief," one of the best costume adventures, "Last of the Mohicans," and perhaps the best cops and robbers saga ever in "Heat," Mann's projects have been notably-- and unjustifiably-- absent from Oscar consideration. That will undoubtedly change this year with "The Insider." This entertaining and absorbing look at how "60 Minutes" put corporate considerations ahead of news judgment in reporting a story about Big Tobacco is wallowing in acclaim.
The two main characters in the docudrama (which is pretty good when it comes to drama, but doesn't do much of a job of putting the "docu" in perspective) are Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) a producer for "60 Minutes," and Jeffery Wigand, (Rusell Crowe) a recently fired tobacco company Vice President in charge of research.
When Wigand decides to blow the whistle on Big Tobacco's manipulations of nicotine and the truth in an interview with Mike Wallace, (a very good Christopher Plummer) in violation of his confidentiality agreement, it sets off a war within CBS News. Management is afraid a lawsuit might make the price of CBS stock fall, just as many of them are about to profit by a Westinghouse buyout.
Russell Crowe is very good as the prickly, explosive Wigand. In cases like this, the whistleblowers motives are often cloudy, and Crowe and the script do a nice job of presenting him warts and all. That is not so much the case with Lowell Bergman, who as played by Pacino is the high octane, high-minded crusader in search of The Truth. Pacino may actually TOO charismatic for this role, his presence alone gives moral weight to his character.
Like Bergman, this movie considers The Truth is the highest priority, but the cost to the informant is really never considered. That's just the breaks of getting out The Truth. The movie could use a heavy dose of skepticism about the methods and hive nature of big time glamour journalism.
If this were a fictionalized story suggested by real events like, "Mississippi Burning," this compelling tale of ethical conflict would work better. But because it is about current events and names, it should not be examined in a vacuum.
In order to consider "The Insider" a great movie, one has to accept the following dubious premises: 1. "60 Minutes" is the pinnacle of American journalism with an unvarnished reputation for integrity. In fact, "60 Minutes" has long been known as unreliable on consumer affairs reporting, having exaggerated the flammability of Ford Pintos, foisted the Alar apple scare on the public, and spread the myth of "sudden acceleration in the Audi 5000. And with the numerous hatchet pieces they have done on conservative and Christian organizations and leaders, finding out that "60 Minutes" sold out, is about as shocking as hearing that an assassin has become a prostitute. It's interesting, but the fall from grace is not news. 2."60 Minutes" segments change the world. Some poor Apple farmers and Audi stockholders might agree with that, but not in the way this movie suggests. 3. The collection of trial lawyers and attorneys general going for the big tobacco settlements are crusaders for justice, and not merely after a big payout. The issue of just what all of the previous tobacco tax money has gone for, if not health care, is never raised. 4. Helping get a big fine out of Big Tobacco is worth losing one's family over. The only time that it is suggested that Wigand was betrayed or badly used by the glam journalists, is when his interview did not run. The fact that this ruined his marriage is warmed over, and treated like just one of those things. 5. People haven't been aware of the real effects of tobacco for at least a century, and weren't already laughing scornfully at the Big Tobacco CEOs when they testified before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.
Besides, I thought we'd been told for the last two years that the American people don't care about perjury, as long as the offender is doing an effective job.