What is integrity? Does it exist solely as the inspiration of virtuous intent or can it also shine through a veil of self-interest?
Or does it truly exist at all?
The Insider, on the surface, doesn’t look like a film that could answer those questions, and to a large degree it answers none of them. Instead, it does what great art should do: It poses tough questions, shows us how humans deal with them, and leaves us to wonder, “What would I do?”
The film primarily tells the story of two men. 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) receives a packet of insider info for a story he’s doing on the link between cigarettes and house fires. To decrypt the more scientific elements of the story, he tries to enlist the help of Jeffery Weigand (Russell Crowe), a recently-deposed tobacco VP.
But what starts as a simple consultation becomes a chance for Weigand to expose the deeper, darker secrets kept by the industry, spurring on Weigand’s inner conflict about doing the right thing, and Bergman’s external battle with the CBS higher-ups to see that the story is allowed to be shown to the public.
Michael Mann’s brilliant adaptation of the groundbreaking article by Marie Brenner, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” about 60 Minutes’ 1995 expose on the ills of big tobacco, is a film very much worth revisiting, especially in the world of corporate and journalistic negligence we inhabit today, and its release on Blu-ray is a very, very welcome one in my eyes.
Any film starring Pacino and Crowe (to say nothing of Christopher Plummer’s fantastic performance as Mike Wallace) is going to be performance-driven, but they aren’t the performances you’d necessarily expect.
Pacino, who had worked with Mann four years earlier in the modern crime classic Heat, gives a comparably low-key performance – unfettered by the loud, over-the-top explosions that have marred some of the master thespian’s performances in recent years. In The Insider, Pacino strikes a wonderful balance of determination and panache and in the process puts together a truly unique creation in a long resume.
The chart Crowe’s growth as one of his generation’s most renowned actors really begins here. Weigand is an extremely complex individual, ridden with guilt, inner turmoil, and trepidation and yet just as determined as Bergman to have his story told.
As mentioned earlier, there are other brilliant performances, particularly from Christopher Plummer but also from the likes of Phillip Baker Hall and Michael Gambon (believe it or not, kids, he worked before he was Dumbledore).
The pacing by Mann is terrific, and it’s every bit as suspenseful and every bit as much a nail-biter as some of his more action-laden offerings like Miami Vice and Heat. The movie has its moments of kinetic energy as well as brooding moments of Noir-ish melancholy, and everything fits without missing a beat – as much a credit to the script (co-written by Mann and Eric Roth).
In an era where the rights of corporate America supersede those of the public and when there simply isn’t room for journalistic integrity and objectivity in 24 hours of news, it strikes me as something of an injustice that this film isn’t cited or pointed to more in the modern era.
Disney/Buena Vista brings The Insider to the world of high-definition video with a gorgeously-faithful 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer that truly takes advantage of the advances afforded by the Blu-ray format while maintaining the filmic, grainy quality of the source material.
There’s a particularly-beautiful scene with Weigand at a driving range when he starts to understand how deep his trouble is. Through visuals alone, the scene communicates how alone the character really is at that point, and the Blu-ray format makes the scene come to life in ways that it never did on either video or DVD.
The sound, a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, leaves just a touch to be desired. I realize this is a dialogue-heavy scene, but I didn’t notice much in the way of ambiance. The visuals were enough to keep the movie alive for me, and there was never a point where the dialogue was remotely difficult to understand, but a good sound mix can make an after-market release truly come alive, and I feel like Disney/Buena Vista dropped the ball to a certain extent on this one.
Beyond the Feature
Speaking of dropping the ball…
This release is inexcusably short on supplemental material.
All we get is a 7-minute production featurette (featuring almost-exclusively archival interview footage with Pacino and Crowe) and the three-minute theatrical trailer, both of which are presented in standard definition.
I’m at something of a loss as to why this movie isn’t heralded as a classic and why it wasn’t seen by its own distributor as worthy of at least a few up-to-date featurettes.
It could have something to do with the fact that it was released in a year when cinema was telling some of the greatest stories of our time (Magnolia, Fight Club, and American Beauty are also members of the class of 1999), but it’s a virtual crime that the story and the performances contained herein have been lost through the cracks of the ever-expanding cinematic sidewalk.
But those are excuses as to why Disney seems to have forgotten how important this movie is. What about us, the viewing public? Have we been too saturated by the Hollywood convention of flash-and-substance that we don’t recognize the fact that a 14-year-old movie is eerily-prescient about the times we live in?
Or it could be that it poses questions we’d all much rather dodge. The Insider is a movie that makes us ask, “What would I do?”
I’m willing to bet that, as a people, we’d rather forget a brilliant work of art like The Insider than answer that question honestly.
Shop for The Insider on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (February 19, 2013 release date).