Combustible Celluloid
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With: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Michael Gambon, Lindsay Crouse, Bruce McGill, Rip Torn, Debi Mazar, Stephen Tobolowsky
Written by: Eric Roth, Michael Mann, based on Marie Brenner's article "The Man Who Knew Too Much"
Directed by: Michael Mann
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 157
Date: 28/10/1999

The Insider (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Blowing It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Insider on DVD

Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider tells the story of the whistle-blower who informed TV's "60 Minutes" about the secret practices that the tobacco company Brown & Williamson engaged in, even after its CEOs had testified that "nicotine is not addictive." The whistle-blower is Jeffrey Wigand, played amazingly by Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential). His only confidant is producer Lowell Bergman from "60 Minutes," played by Al Pacino (at his best in an acute and fiery performance). Like JFK (1991), The Insider uses all real names and places but simplifies and dramatizes the story to make the movie work. The effect is riveting, like a gritty urban action movie with more brains and higher stakes. This story is told mostly through meetings and phone calls, not chase scenes or explosions. How does one visualize a story like this? Mann solves the problem by creating an atmosphere in which intelligent, realistic characters can grow. He emphasizes small things: showing us a paper coffee cup sliding down an inch or so from the top of a public phone, or a raindrop rolling down the windshield of a cab. The only thing that jars us from this world is the occasional grandstanding speech ("are you a businessman or are you a newsman?"). But even these are welcome flourishes to this canvas of corruption. The Insider is an engaging, beautifully-paced drama that leaves most others like it looking silly and amateurish.

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