THE INSIDER (1999) 

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Al Pacino
Russell Crowe
Christopher Plummer
Diane Verona
Philip Baker Hall
Lindsay Crouse
Debi Mazar
Stephen Tobolowsky
Gina Gershon

Michael Mann



Time: 160 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

Academy Award Nominations for Best Actor (Crowe), Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

I have to admit that even though I like Russell Crowe and, for the most part, Al Pacino, I did not have any interest in seeing this movie until it was nominated for best picture by the Academy. I used to try and see everything, but as I get older I'm becoming much more selective with my time. Though I don't always agree with the Academy's final choice for Best Picture, the nominees are usually always among the cream of the crop. THE INSIDER is no exception. This is a brilliantly shot, powerfully acted, intelligent film, that creeps up under your skin and refuses to let go.

The only problem I had with it was that it failed to reach my heart. Probably because the victims in this case of corporate corruption aren't given a face to identify with. The film is more about whether CBS is going to air "The Insider's" 60 Minutes interview than the content of the interview itself. Still an interesting story, just not one that makes you sit up and take notice. Mainly because it wasn't a big surprise to me that an entertainment corporation would choose to keep something under wraps, even if it concerns public safety, than lose a single cent. But I'm extremely cynical.

The whole story revolves around Jeffrey Weigand, a tobacco researcher who's just lost his job from one of the big seven tobacco companies. In order to make ends meet, he agrees to meet with Lowell Bergman, a producer for 60 Minutes, to discuss translating a cigarette fire-hazard document from a competitor into layman's terms. It quickly becomes apparent to Lowell that Jeffrey's conscience is troubled by his past work and has information he believes the public should be aware of. However, Jeffrey is unable to tell Lowell anything due to a confidentiality agreement he signed, which is being strictly enforced. Despite the threats and his failing marriage, Jeffrey decides to tape the interview with Mike Wallace, with the understanding that it won't be aired unless they can find some way around the agreement.

"You'd better look into it, because I'm getting two things: pissed off and curious."

Lowell works his producing magic and the interview is electrifying. The kind of segment journalists usually only dream about. Which is why the network refuses to air it, even though they found a loop-hole that would only Jeffrey to break the agreement. It's not enough for the tobacco company to scare CBS into backing off, they decide to finish the job by destroying what's left of Jeffrey's life and reputation. Not about to see him brought any lower, Lowell pulls out all the stops not only to keep Jeffrey from being further disgraced, but to get the piece aired in its' original form.

I don't always think that Michael Mann is a great storyteller, but he certainly picks interesting, intelligent topics to bring to the screen. Much less violent than his previous two films, HEAT and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, all of the battles in THE INSIDER happen in boardrooms and via cellphone. The thing that keeps the film afloat is the amazing cinematography of Dante Spinotti. The choice of camera angles and shots gives the illusion of movement and emotion, giving the film a unique style and language. It's not at all surprising that Spinotti is being nominated left and right for his work in this film. It's what makes it different from all the rest of it's genre.

Of course, the measured and precise performances of Crowe and Pacino don't hurt either. They complement each other perfectly as two men trying to keep their honor and dignity, to help the world in whatever way they can. Though they are heroes on some level, they are both flawed men living with their own demons and disappointments and it comes through with every expression on their faces. One thing I can't quite understand is how Crowe got nominated, yet Pacino didn't. Their parts were fairly equal in power and Pacino was in more of the film. That's the way it goes some years I guess. There are other characters in this film, but you won't remember any of them. Pacino and Crowe are the only ones that matter and they are very much worth your time.

The film goes on a little long, but I can't really think of anything I would cut out. Every scene had a purpose, so I guess you can't complain too much. If you like intelligent, well-acted films, this is definitely a must-see. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but it's an intriguing ride nonetheless.

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