The Insider

on November 05, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
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   The story of two corporations who try to play hardball and the individuals who step up to the plate, "The Insider" details CBS's controversial decision to not air an interview critical to the tobacco debacle a few years back. Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino, subdued since "The Devil's Advocate") is a producer at "60 Minutes," known for his ability to secure difficult interviews and for the dependability of his word. His integrity is compromised when he gains the trust of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), an ex-employee of tobacco giant Brown & Williamson whose insider knowledge of the operation threatens the safety of his wife and two little girls. Securing Wigand's testimony that the "seven dwarfs," as he calls the seven CEOs of big tobacco, were fully aware of the dangers of smoking when they testified to the contrary, Bergman is betrayed by his company. CBS refuses to air the segment because of a lawsuit threatened by Brown & Williamson.
   Although "The Insider" is being marketed as a Pacino vehicle (Pacino gets top billing, appears alone on the one sheets and monopolizes the opening scene and the last act), the title refers to Wigand, and Crowe, quite rightfully, steals the show. Besides deliberately gaining weight and graying for the role, the Australian has adopted the nervous ticks of his character, honestly portraying the reluctant hero as a man plagued by a hot temper, belligerence and revenge, but also a loving father torn between protecting his family and revealing the truth to the American people.
   Writer-director-producer Michael Mann, who last directed 1995's crime drama "Heat," employs the same stylistic elements here, amply using slow motion and handheld close-ups that, while sometimes as dizzying as those in the notorious "Blair Witch Project," demonstrate the confusion and desperation experienced by the characters. Mann's elegant stylization and Crowe's superb performance pull together a picture daunted by potentially dry subject matter and a hefty running time. Starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora and Philip Baker Hall. Directed by Michael Mann. Written by Eric Roth and Michael Mann. Produced by Pieter Jan Brugge and Michael Mann. A Buena Vista release. Rated R for language. Running time: 157 min
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