Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/11/00
1999 (2000) - Touchstone
review by Greg Suarez of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
158 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:21:53, in chapter
17), Amaray keep case packaging, production featurette, Inside
a Scene (includes Michael Mann's notes to the actors, a
script exerpt and scene access), theatrical trailers for The
Insider, The Sixth Sense
and Guinevere, film-themed
menu screens, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English and
French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
"Does it make you
feel good - putting what you know to use?"
Writer/director Michael Mann has been making gripping, intelligent
movies for many years. All I have to know about a film is that he's
involved and I'll be there opening day for the first showing.
Based on a true story, The Insider
is about tobacco company executive Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell
Crowe), a man who blows the whistle on the deceptive practices of
his employer, Brown & Williamson Tobacco. Wigand becomes
disillusioned with the tobacco industry when his research for the
company shows that the nicotine found in cigarettes is addictive.
This is pushed about when the seven CEOs of the tobacco industry
knowingly perjure themselves, publicly stating that they do not
believe that nicotine is addictive - yet they have Wigand's research
showing the contrary. Wigand is fired once he starts to make his
displeasure known internally. In order to receive his severance
package and continue the health care for his family, he must sign a
stricter reaffirmation of his existing confidentiality agreement,
maintaining his commitment to keep secret everything he knows about
his work at Brown & Williamson. Based of his own code of ethics,
Wigand refuses and begins discussions with Lowell Bergman (Al
Pacino), a producer for the CBS show 60
That's how The Insider
begins. But from there, it's a roller coaster of twisted alliances,
political betrayal and legal red tape. After Wigand does an
interview with Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) revealing all he
knows, he finds that the CBS legal department maintains that the
interview can't be aired, based on the law of Tortious Interference.
This means that Brown & Williamson could hit CBS with a fatal
lawsuit for influencing Wigand to break his confidentiality
agreement. CBS releases a severely watered down version of the
interview, which infuriates Bergman when he learns that CBS
corporate was motivated to avoid the lawsuit because of the
network's impending sale to Westinghouse. Damn the news, damn what's
right - for CBS executives, it's all about the money. Bergman makes
it his mission to right this wrong by exposing CBS's greedy
motivations, and to make sure that the truth is finally revealed.
It's a matter of principle, and he owes it to the real hero, Dr.
The Insider is my favorite
film from 1999, and is the fastest 158 minutes I've ever
experienced. The plot is never dull, and the fact that it's based on
a true story kept my attention piqued the entire length of the
movie. Pacino is, as usual, emotional and charged, delivering a
stellar performance. But the real star of the show is Russell Crowe.
To play Dr. Wigand, Crowe put on weight, dyed his hair and dropped
his Australian accent. Not only does Crowe end up looking very
similar to the real Jeffrey Wigand, but his tone of voice, speech
patterns and body language are perfect. After first seeing The
Insider, and comparing it to interviews with the real
Jeffrey Wigand (including Lowell Bergman's special that he produced
about the tobacco settlement for Frontline
in 1998), I was immediately impressed by how accurately Crowe
portrayed Wigand. Portraying a real person must be difficult for any
actor to do. But to portray people commonly-known in the present
day, and to accurately re-create situations and events in very
recent history, has to be very challenging... especially when these
events and people are fresh in our minds.
Michael Mann is known for his stylish directing, but what I respect
him for the most is his exciting storytelling. Watching The
Insider, I felt every bit of heartache and insane
frustration that Wigand experienced. Expertly using the camera, Mann
effectively pulls the audience into the madness of the situation,
making the audience quickly develop a real sense of connection with
the character. Wigand is not the indestructible renegade painted so
frequently in movies. No, he's an everyday man... but that's what
makes him a hero. The fact that this situation is a reality for this
man increases the emotion and, I feel, helps draw in the audience
that much more.
Quite simply, the visual presentation of The
Insider on DVD is of reference quality. The 2.35:1
anamorphic widescreen picture is pristine. There is not one trace of
distracting compression artifacting, giving a very smooth and
consistent visual experience. Black levels are outstanding and the
shadow delineation is impressive. The interior scenes are accurate
and easy to watch, which is important to this film as so much of it
happens in dark interiors. Color fidelity is also excellent, as is
picture detail. Great care was obviously taken with the mastering of
this transfer, and the picture is exactly as I remember it
theatrically, with an intentionally dark look and an occasional
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is superb, but as this is a
dialog-oriented film, it's not a real whiz-bang crowd-pleaser.
Voices are the most important aspect of the soundtrack and they are
portrayed very intelligibly, even during the most enraged outbursts
by the characters. Subtle background ambience is nicely dispersed
throughout the listening environment during bustling restaurant and
busy city street scenes. The beautiful, ethereal score is
effectively spread across the front soundstage, with occasional use
of the rear channels. Low frequencies are scarce on the soundtrack,
but give the subwoofer a good run when they appear. Overall, this is
a soundtrack that delivers a bit more than you would expect from a
Unfortunately, Disney continues its highly annoying practice of
adding forced previews to the beginning of the film with this DVD
release. Luckily, most players can skip through them (with the
chapter advance button on your player's remote), but this does not
excuse the greed on Disney's part for adding this
D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N to the disc. What's even more galling is that
there is the same selection on the disc's main menu screen to
voluntarily view them.
This DVD contains a couple of brief but mentionable special
features. First, you get a very short featurette containing
interviews with Michael Mann, Al Pacino, and Russell Crowe. What's
more interesting is that there are brief interviews with the real
Jeffrey Wigand, Lowell Bergman, attorney Dick Scruggs and
Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore (who plays himself in the
movie). One note regarding this feature, is that the packaging for
the DVD states, "Production Featurette - Audio Commentary with
Al Pacino and Russell Crowe." This could be interpreted by some
to mean a feature-length, running audio commentary with the actors,
when in fact it just means that they appear in the featurette. There
is no commentary track. The second feature is called Inside
a Scene, and is a fairly new concept as a DVD supplement.
It shows notes (in the form of running script) that Michael Mann
gave to Pacino and Crowe about how a certain scene should be acted.
After going though them, you can then read the script exerpt for the
scene, and then be taken directly to the scene in the film. It's
pretty neat, actually. Also included here is the theatrical trailer
for the film, which is one of the better trailers I have seen.
That's it, folks. I know it's better than nothing, but considering
this film is based on very recent events, I would have hoped for
more - perhaps a commentary with Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman,
or a lengthier making-of documentary with more in-depth interviews.
The Insider is an amazing
movie, and even at 158 minutes, the story is always interesting.
Michael Mann's sophisticated directing and storytelling keeps the
audience involved, and Pacino and Crowe's great performances keep
you riveted to the screen. The picture quality of this anamorphic
transfer is outstanding, and the audio presentation is surprisingly
lively for a drama. The supplements could be stronger, but the movie
stands on its own. As DVDs go, this one's definitely worth owning.