The Insider [Blu-Ray]
Director : Michael Mann
Screenplay : Michael Mann and Eric Roth (based on the article “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner, published in Vanity Fair)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Al Pacino (Lowell Bergman), Russell Crowe (Jeffrey Wigand), Christopher Plummer (Mike Wallace), Diane Venora (Liane Wigand), Philip Baker Hall (Don Hewitt), Lindsay Crouse (Sharon Tiller), Debi Mazar (Debbie De Luca), Stephen Tobolowsky (Eric Kluster), Colm Feore (Richard Scruggs), Bruce McGill (Ron Motley), Gina Gershon (Helen Caperelli)
One of the more impressive achievements in Michael Mann’s The Insider is that he keeps the film so intriguing for such a long period of time. At the time of its release in 1999, movies of its nature—true-story exposés about corporate and media corruption—have been the domain of network television mini-series since the 1970s, and in that time they have been reduced to unmoving Sunday night waste. These kinds of pictures were huge in the 1950s, and back then they had impact. In making The Insider, Mann essentially revitalized and reinvigorated what had been a dead cinematic genre: the socially relevant docudrama.
However, that being said, what makes The Insider so good is not its social relevance or its righteous indictment of corporate venality. The story, which concerns how a Big Tobacco company tried to squash a determined whistleblower, does not derive its pulsating tension from the crookedness it lays bare. Big Tobacco is one of the last groups in America that is a socially acceptable target for collective moral outrage. Everyone hates Big Tobacco companies—even smokers—and to call them “evil” is about as banal and obvious as you can get.
The Insider generates its power from the insights it provides into the mechanistic structure of television journalism. This is a process movie, akin to the well-done police procedural. It rivets the audience with its inside look at the process of how a journalistic story is put together for a television news magazine. We watch in awe as the gears chug along, and we shudder when they get clogged. It shows how journalists from different fields work together and against each other (although parts of the story in this respect were fictionalized, you can feel the film reaching at a deeper truth). It is the most optimistic film about the dogged struggles of idealistic journalism since Alan J. Pakula’s All the President's Men (1976), and likely paved the way for George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck (2005).
The story concerns actual events that took place in 1995 surrounding an episode of the CBS news series 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), a ’60s-era radical journalist who takes his trustworthiness and dedication to journalistic integrity very serious, slowly convinced Jeff Wigand (Russell Crowe), the former head of research for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., to reveal secrets about how tobacco companies mix chemicals to make cigarettes more addictive. Wigand broke a confidentiality agreement in order to spill the beans, and much of the film shows how his life is destroyed in the process: He is ruined financially, is put in legal jeopardy, suffers death threats, and loses his wife to the pressure. However, after all Wigand went through, CBS eventually caved to the pressure of possible legal action from Brown & Williamson and cancelled the interview. The outcome, as everyone knows, is that CBS was chastised by the other media outlets for backing down to corporate pressure (the film makes clear the tension between the business and journalistic aspects of network television) and eventually showed the interview several months later.
Because we already know the outcome, The Insider is that much more of an accomplishment in that it maintains a high level of interest through its two-and-a-half hour duration. Mann (Heat) and his co-screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) keep the tension level high by focusing on the mechanics of how Bergman and news correspondent Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) get the story together and the process by which all their efforts are thwarted when CBS fears financial ramifications. The film is almost all talk, but there is never a dull moment.
The Insider benefits tremendously from excellent performances by all the lead actors, especially Crowe. Pacino may be billed first and, to his credit, his performance is solid and restrained, but the film thrives on Crowe’s deeply moving portrayal of the flawed but still noble Wigand. He makes us feel the pain of his many losses, and we understand that he is not a great moral crusader, but rather a decent man who is simply trying to do the right thing despite all that is stacked against him. There is one especially poignant moment that shows Wigand sitting at a restaurant and hearing the local news coverage repeating allegations made against him in an orchestrated smear campaign financed by the tobacco company. He winces and bows his head, refusing to look at the picture, but we can still hear the correspondent listing his past mistakes for all the world to hear. It is a small moment, but in it we feel everything Wigand has suffered, which makes it all the more infuriating when CBS’s corporate lawyers declare that the segment will not air, thereby nullifying his sacrifice.
Mann keeps the film moving briskly along, and he enhances the tension and impact by using the camera in unexpected ways. Many of his shots are deliberately disorienting close-ups, and he utilizes hand-held cameras to give several of the scenes a documentary-like flavor. He rarely frames characters in the center of the screen; rather, he puts them off to one side, giving the composition an unbalanced, uneasy quality. To be fair, he does get overly dramatic at times and forces the overwrought musical score to do more work than necessary. But, overall, The Insider is a fine example of how to take a compelling real-life story and make it even more compelling on the big screen.
|The Insider Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Touchstone Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 19, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The new digitally remastered 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of The Insider is extremely good in rendering the intense, claustrophobic imagery by director Michael Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti. While Mann’s previous films, including Heat (1995) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992), were more classical in their visual stylings, The Insider marked an aesthetic departure for Mann that favors extreme close-ups, shallow focus, handheld cameras, and off-kilter framings, which work very well with the film’s storyline and themes. The images are also frequently bathed in a single color, such as blue, which gives it a noir-ish monochromatic feel at times. The transfer is excellent in maintaining the original integrity of the image, giving us an extremely filmlike presentation (this was actually Mann’s last film shot entirely on celluloid) that maintains good detail and contrast throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack isn’t always terribly busy, as much of the film is driven by dialogue, but it does spread out the ambient effects nicely, creating a good sense of environment, and also gives Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke’s unconventional musical score a good sense of depth and vibrance.|
|Nothing new to report in the supplements. All that is included on the Blu-Ray is the theatrical trailer and an electronic press kit featurette on the film’s production that includes interviews with co-writer/director Michael Mann, stars Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Christopher Plummer, and the real-life Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman, as well as Richard Scruggs (who served as Wigand’s attorney) and Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore.|
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