Monday, December 17, 2012
(November 1999, U.S.)
Although I only watch CBS's 60 MINUTES on occassion, I have nothing but great respect for this show as perhaps the last surviving example of a news program with some form of balls and integrity in a perverted world of media that is diseased to the brim with outrageous sensationalism. As a mere spectator, though, I can only watch and appreciate the "big news story" from the outside of the TV screen. It rarely ever occurs to me to consider the process and the risks involved from the origin of the story to the legal and bureaucratic bullshit involved before it actually sees the light of day on the air for the rest of us to see. Michael Mann's THE INSIDER shows us just that in a thrilling and dramatic style that I haven't seen or enjoyed since ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976).
Before this film, I had only a vague memory of the actual tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) who went on 60 MINUTES in 1995 with Mike Wallace (played in the film by Christopher Plummer) and stated that tobacco giant Brown & Williamson intentionally manipulated the tobacco blend to increase the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke, thereby increasing the impact of the addiction to the smoker, and of course, therby increasing their sales. He also stated that the seven CEOs of "Big Tobacco" perjured themselves to the United States Congress about their awareness of nicotine’s addictiveness. Wait a second...tobacco companies LYING in order to increase sales and get rich??? N-a-a-a-h!!!
As important as the whistleblowing and the big story are here, the film focusses less on the actual television interview and gives a lot more necessary attention to the relationship Jeffrey Wigand develops with CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by the great Al Pacino - my favorite actor, as you well know). It's only by chance that the two meet in the first place, but it's immediately apparant to Lowell that Jeffrey has something he wants to say to the world. He's been unjustly fired by Brown & Williamson and he's disgruntled, but he's also bound to the confidentiality agreement which stresses that he can't discuss or reveal anything about his former employment. It's an agreement Jeffrey is willing to honor until the big "powers that be" threaten his life and his family's. While anger, emotion and even vengeance dictate Jeffrey's actions, it's also clear to him and to Lowell that he has information that the American viewing public have a right to know about. And so, as cliches of good & bad, right & wrong and risk & sacrifice go, the big news story is revealed to the world and justice is supposedly done, but not without the price of Jeffrey losing his marriage.
Now let's talk about this man's marriage for a moment. His wife Liane is played by Diane Venora (who bears a more than striking resemblance to Jessica Lange, I might add). A film, accurate or not, can only give a dramatic version of what may or may not have been the facts of a real man's marriage. However, if Venora's portrait of Jeffrey's real life wife was even just a little bit accurate, then his wife was the most pathetic excuse for strength and support that any man would want in a wife. This woman irritatingly goes to pieces from the moment she learns her husband's been fired and their precious car and house payments are now at risk. Yes, all of the events that happen to both of them are upsetting, but clearly she was unable to abide by those famous words in Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man".
Russell Crowe shines as Wigand, and strangely, this was only the second time I'd seen him on film after L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), but it was more than clear that this man was going to skyrocket as an actor and a performer (GLADIATOR was released the summer following this film). As Lowel Bergman, it's needless to say that Al Pacino's performance speaks for itself. This man plays the toughest roles I've ever seen through his personality, his charisma and his intense use of dialogue. In short, he's the toughest guy I've known on film in my lifetime, and strangely, I don't think I've ever seen him in a film where he actually used physical violence against anyone...well, except for firing that gun in THE GODFATHER (1972). Yes, I love, love, love the man and most of his films. Most, I say because even HE wasn't enough to save a piece of shit movie like DICK TRACY (1990).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lowell Bergman: "You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own fucking confidentiality agreement. And he's only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who's out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he's not telling the truth? No. Because he IS telling the truth. That's why we're not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!"