johnlink ranks THE INSIDER (1999)

I have the category ‘johnlink favorite flicks’ for films I highly recommend. Sometimes I realize a movie would be in this category halfway through watching it, or after finishing it, or sometime during the writing of an article (since many of my ideas about a film don’t fully form until I’m writing it down). THE INSIDER is a film I first saw upon its release, and which I have seen a few times since. I knew this would fall under the favorite category before I put it on last night. It is absolutely an all-time classic in my book.

I watched THE INSIDER (1999) on 11.12.12. It was my fifth viewing of the film, and first in a half-dozen years.

Action films often start with a quick chase scene, or some intense violence, or a vignette of a hero ‘doing his thing’. The purpose of this is to establish character, start the film off with a bang, and prove that the adventure we are about to see is not the hero’s first. Oftentimes, it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot, it is a purely character-driven concept (well that, and the idea that scriptwriters are told that something big better happen in the first ten pages or their script won’t get read). It is slightly less common to see a drama begin this way, with an isolated display of adventurism. But, Michael Mann (his two movies prior to this were LAST OF THE MOHICANS and HEAT) approaches this film as though it were an action movie. Consider the music, pulsing and non-stop in an early sequence which serves to underscore the fact that the meeting Russell Crowe is about to go into is indeed dangerous.

And the story of THE INSIDER is dangerous. Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco executive who has been fired for not playing nice with others. He fully intends to honor his non-disclosure agreements until his former boss, a paranoid tobacco executive, puts unnecessary pressure on him. Wigand gets backed into a corner as his family gets threatened. He turns to 60 minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) who has been trying to get him to go on record to state that the tobacco industry has been lying about the vindictiveness and health risks of their product.

This is based on a true story, a Vanity Fair article is the main source. The real life drama is absolutely intense, even if Mann chooses to take a few liberties with the story in the interest of drama. But go ahead and look up the facts, and go ahead look up how CBS handled this entire situation. It is interesting that the first half of this film is how the tobacco industry can ruin a man’s life if they so choose. The second half is how they can also do so on a large scale, they can also manipulate and bully and entire corporation.

This is a movie which does not beat you over the head. The script really is wonderfully crafted. We learn about these men in bits of exposition which feels natural. Both guys have done their homework, so when Wigand and Bergman talk about each other’s past (rather than their own) it feels like an organic way to get their information. Also, this is not a movie which seeks to trivialize or dramatize the impact of smoking. It is a movie about the big picture, so there is no single character dying of cancer, or token person who we know will die. Instead, we get subtlety. One brilliant shot occurs after Wigand testifies in court. He is heading home, and his entourage passes by a burning car on the side of the highway as emergency services begin to arrive. The idea, here, is that Wigand may be such a burning car. And although his life is forever changed, though his life is burning apart like that car, the rest of the world may drive right on by with out barely looking twice. That few moments, then, give a quick and wordless look into the mind of Wigand. It is one of Mann’s great revelatory moments in a career full of them.

This movie is Al Pacino at his best. Growling and snarling when he has to, charming when called for. He’s a guarded man who reports on others because he doesn’t like to talk about himself. Also, Russell Crowe is channeling JT Walsh in this. It is hard to believe that Crowe went from this film right into GLADIATOR. He looks fifteen years younger and forty pounds of fat have been converted to muscle. When people forget that Russell Crowe is a good actor, I just remind them that THE INSIDER exists. Lastly, Christopher Plummer absolutely nails Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. It is not the most flattering of portrayals, since Wallace wasn’t the devoted newsman we all like to think of him as throughout this entire ordeal. However, he does get some redemption by film’s end.

This is a film which just delivers on every single level. There is very little wrong with it, and every viewing is a reminder of just how well they got this. Is it, perhaps, slightly disingenuous in changing some basic facts? I’m sure it is. However, the point of this movie was always to consider the people involved in a major news story, not just the story itself. You can argue that it gives absolutely no voice to the tobacco industry. But, then, I’d argue that it did not deserve a voice in this case. Decades of lying and misinformation removes the benefit of the doubt in your corner, I suppose.

For my money, this is the best Al Pacino film there is. For my money, Russell Crowe does not get better. And, for my money, there are few films ever made which exceed the value of THE INSIDER.



The bonus is for the music. Continually spectacular.



Thus matching THE USUAL SUSPECTS, CASABLANCA, and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION as the highest scored films out of 478 rankings thus far.

~ by johnlink00 on November 13, 2012.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE INSIDER (1999)”

  1. […] The Insider […]

  2. […] SUSPECTS had ever hit an overall score of 9.75 (nothing has ever hit 10). This year, SHAWSHANK, THE INSIDER, and CASABLANCA all hit the 9.75 […]

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