The Insider


(1999) ★★★★★

Film4: 26 July, 12.50am

CBS TV news producer Al Pacino asks scientific researcher Russell Crowe to decipher tobacco company documents, unaware that Crowe’s just been fired from his executive position with the Kentucky tobacco corporation Brown & Williamson. Pacino senses that Crowe has a story to tell. Michael Mann’s epic denunciation of corporate corruption and media capitulation focuses to advantage on the quandary facing Crowe. The dramatic impetus of the story is seen from his deeply insecure point of view. He feels compelled to tell the truth about the inequities of tobacco company research and development, yet he’s signed a cofidentiality agreement to safeguard medical insurance for his severely asthmatic young daughter. An unlikely heroic figure – Crowe is portraying a pasty-faced, overweight middle-aged executive with a short temper and a long past of unpredictable behaviour. Yet he acts courageously in agreeing to an interview with 60 Minutes presenter Mike Wallace (a superlatively slippery performance by Christopher Plummer). His family leaves him, Brown & Williamson mounts a public smear campaign against him, and CBS refuses to broadcast the interview under threat of litigation. Given the fluid ethics of business, none of these events is surprising. In Mann’s immaculate dramatisation of real-life events, though, they are properly shocking. Without melodramatic emphasis, Mann makes The Insider a moving testament to doing the right thing. It looks fantastic, too (it’s probably the best-looking American film since Heat, also photographed by Dante Spinotti) and, typically, Mann uses music for maximum emotional impact. The way in which complex and weighty material is handled with great dramatic dexterity sometimes brings to mind Oliver Stone’s JFK. This is film-making of the highest order and the best of Michael Mann’s movies are monumental in an architectural sense – they stand for something. And standing tall in Mann’s thrillingly kinetic adaptation of J. Fenimore Cooper’s colonial American classic The Last of the Mohicans (Channel 5, Sunday, 10.50pm) is the amazingly versatile Daniel Day-Lewis. There will be blood.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 153min

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