A conservative judge is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron's wife attempts to carry on the family business.
Benicio Del Toro,
Balls-out "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman sniffs a story when a former research biologist for Brown & Williamson, Jeff Wigand, won't talk to him. When the company leans hard on Wigand to honor a confidentiality agreement, he gets his back up. Trusting Bergman and despite a crumbling marriage, he goes on camera for a Mike Wallace interview and risks arrest for contempt of court. Westinghouse is negotiating to buy CBS, so CBS attorneys advise CBS News to shelve the interview and avoid a lawsuit. "60 Minutes" and CBS News bosses cave, Wigand is hung out to dry, Bergman is compromised, and the CEOs of Big Tobacco may get away with perjury. Will the truth come out? Written by
The Insider is the only film I remember having seen where I walked out of the theatre with a headache because of the intensity of the story. Michael Mann is one of few directors who has such an in-depth understanding of both the subject of his film and the nature of that subject, that he is able to portray a realism that is nearly impossible to match.
There is real skill displayed in the way in which the Insider weaves through the aspects of both Bergmann and Wigand's lives. Whereas a lesser director would have thrown the characters at each other in an artificial collision, Mann introduces each character as being average professionals each living in their own respective stable lives. It is only when their chance encounter creates a subtext that could consume them both does the real chemical reaction in the story take place.
Bringing life to these fantastically written characters are two of the most talented 'big-name' character actors of our time, Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Surprisingly, it is Crowe that drives this film forward, and his portrayal of Wigand is spot-on perfect. His is an honest humanity, both a loving father and a flawed husband who never fully balances his life under the pressure of circumstance. Crowe nails the performance by not hamming-up the character, but rather by understating his personality. This works in that it is the character that is elevated while the actor disappears.
That is not to ignore the excellent work by the remainder of the cast. Pacino's performance is accented and accentuated beautifully by Christopher Plummer's portrayal of Mike Wallace. Most notably are several standout scenes mixing Pacino, Plummer, Philip Baker Hall and Stephen Tobolowsky that ground the underlying tensions of the film fantastically. And the juxtaposition between the cold, hard New York settings and the organic nature of Mississippi further press this film beyond standard non-fiction works.
Easily one of the best dramas of 1999, the Insider is a standout member of that elite club of great historical dramas such as All the President's Men that are few and far between. It is for that audience that appreciates skilled performances meeting skilled direction and restrained, mature writing.
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