While Al Pacino spent most of the 1990s playing mentors to Hollywood’s young elite, he managed to tone it down — even if it’s just a tad — and play a conflicted television journalist in The Insider.
While the movie is told in parallel structure alternating between the dilemma Russell Crowe’s character has to deal with and Pacino’s desire to keep his word to his subject, it is in Pacino’s plight where the film makes its most poignant statement.
Sure, tobacco companies are evil corporations out to get the mighty dollar despite their addictive and deadly product. Exposing that aspect of the story is certainly important, and Crowe is magnificent as Jeff Wigand, the whistle-blower whose life unravels as a result of his moral convictions to tell the truth.
However, the medium in which he tells his story is the real gem here. And in portraying the CBS newsroom where 60 Minutes is produced, The Insider brings to life an atmosphere where business had begun to control TV journalism.
Lowell Bergman (Pacino), the First Amendment martyr, is presented as a hard-nosed TV producer who is willing to quit for the cause of protecting an interview subject. He yells, he curses and he makes bravado speeches. It’s typical Pacino, with the exception that this time around the words coming out of his mouth stand for something. The struggle to convince his bosses that the truth is more important than protecting a company from getting sued is where we see his conviction.
The Insider is a quiet film with nuances that border on losing interest. Some of the scenes are too long and sometimes the film goes in different directions that don’t always lead to a cohesive destination. It does not fit in a tight package. But that may be its overwhelming brilliance.
It begins and ends with Lowell doing his job as a producer. It shows what he has to go through. His profession is one where he stumbles upon a tobacco scientist who had just happened to be recently fired and has a story to tell. Is it his uncanny ability to find stories? Is it luck?
The latter doesn’t seem to be the case because we see Lowell working so hard to persuade Jeff that he is doing the right thing by telling all about big tobacco.
This is a movie that showcases so manytalents. From Pacino and Crowe in top form to Christopher Plummer doing a dead-on Mike Wallace to director Michael Mann’s ability to transition from a tight character drama to a telling exposÃ© into the pressured world of journalism.
Mann also uses an overpowering score and dream-like imagery to help move his story along.
But overall, The Insider has a point to make and it is relentless in getting it across. Could this story easily have been left on the editorial pages of The New York Times? Some would argue that.
Others may argue that the beauty of film is to take a compelling story to another dimension. When a story like The Insider come along, it would be a shame not to tell it.
Contact Will Albritton at email@example.com