Cinerama: The Insider

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Insider

Mike Derderian

When I first started writing I believed in the power of the word. I still do for without the word our minds would simply cease from existing. But what good writing words and sentences to blindfolded people, who are strapped to wooden polls, would do?

“Por favor yo quiero un cigarrillo? Para fumar claro! Of course for smoking what other use does a cigarette have!” a poet in tattered attires said to the officer in charge of the firing squad. “Fuego! fuego!” the officer asking for a lighter shouted. Multiple gunshots echoed in the horizon. Lorca was dead for he was cowardly shot.

“Who needs words when ammunition is available,” a man holding a gun aimed at the dead poet’s smashed and bleeding head announced, “es el final señor.”

The wisdom behind the above story is to teach you to never ask for a cigarette when facing a Spanish-speaking firing squad. First it is not healthy and second of all the sentence “smoking causes cancer” is not a myth created to deter men from trying to look like the Marlboro Man, who is a strapping ragged man with a strong jaw line.

Leaning over a fence with his coarse arms extending and one of his dirty leather boots resting on a lower wooden railing the Marlboro Man is gluttonously smoking. What a relief after a long day of roping wild mustangs. However, after the release of Brokeback Mountain I don’t think us men want that look any more.

The truth about smoking, individual integrity, the power of the greed-driven corporate machine and professional news reporting is what Michael Mann’s 1991 The Insider is all about. It is in a way about cowboys and Indians but this time around the cowboys were the bad guys.

The Insider tells the story of Jeff Wigand, a tobacco research chemist, who blew the whistle on the industry back in 1994 by agreeing to talk to Mike Wallace from CBS’s 60 Minutes. After being convinced by 60 Minutes producer and hardliner Lowell Bergman to appear with Wallace, Wigand, who was fired from Brown & Williamson, reveals scientific facts that refute former statements and allegations by industry officials about the effects of smoking and if it causes addiction.

It stars Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Philip Baker Hall, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Diane Venora, Debi Mazar and Christopher Plummer as veteran reporter and CBS television presenter Mike Wallace.

The heads of the tobacco industry upon learning that Wigand is about to spill his guts decide to discredit him through the media and threaten to sue him for breach of contract. Wigand wasn’t allowed to talk because he signed a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement.

“And that’s what cigarettes are for?” Mike Wallace (Plummer) asks the tense Wigand. “A delivery device for nicotine,” Wigand (Crowe) answers back. “A delivery device for nicotine. Put it in your mouth, lit it up and you’re gonna get your fix?” Wallace repeating Wigand’s answer with a note of irony says to the camera. “You’re gonna get your fix,” Wigand affirms in confidence.

The network executives refuse to air the complete interview because they fear that CBS would not withstand a lawsuit by the tobacco companies. This is where the moral struggle of all parties involved in the case begins.

After his wife (Venora) filed for divorce and child custody of his two girls Wigand basically had nothing left to lose except his integrity and honesty, which was now on the line thanks to the shameless and manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry. Wigand is the underdog in this movie that was based on a Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner.

Encouraged by Bergman, who contrary to Wigand’s character is a fighter and relentless journalist willing to cross any line for a story, the emotionally stressed man does not falter and decides to go all the way with what information he has.

The Insider is a 157-minutes of powerful and emotional outbursts brilliantly delivered by Russel Crowe and Al Pacino. Crowe managed to draw out the inner struggle of Wigand, who as a result of his brave and moral undertaking to reveal the truth to the people is chastised. His suffering in turn becomes Bergman’s.

Bergman is a man of word and ideals and when CBS fails Wigand the story becomes a cross for him to bear. He sees himself responsible for Wigand that is why he refuses to bail out on him. Wallace on the other hand was portrayed as an aging newsman, who because of his fear from the uncertainties of the future faltered and did not back his producer Bergman, whose only obsession was to deliver Wigand’s words and the truth to the public.

Plummer’s performance as Wallace was quite impressive and haunting especially in the manner by which he presented his inner concerns and fears regarding his career in the news business.

Both Colm Feore and Bruce McGill, who played the roles of lawyers litigating in a case involving tobacco and needed Wigand’s testimony, gave a formidable performance especially McGill’s. Gershon was very obnoxious as a CBS executive, which was very good in terms of acting.

Must-see-scenes: the opening scene with Lowel and Mike interviewing an Islamic figure in Beirut; Wallac’s outburst at CBS, when he realizes that his interview was edited by a CBS executive; any of the scene involving Russell Crowe and when Bergman tells Wallace that he resigned from CBS.

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