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review added: 4/11/00



The Insider
1999 (2000) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Insider Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/C+

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 Minutes.

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. Jeffrey Wigand.

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 blue-cast.

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 dialog-oriented drama.

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.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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