Insider A dramatization of 1995 events in which the tobacco industry allegedly covered up proof that nicotine is addictive and harmful. When Brown and Williamson executive Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) tries to expose the industry’s cover-up, he is threatened into silence. He eventually gets his story to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (AL Pacino), but CBS decides against airing it due to political and economic pressures, and the threat of lawsuit from Brown and Williamson. Before we start, I think it’s important that you know a little thing about me, and where I’m coming from. I do smoke. But I believe that most of the lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry are unfounded, desperate attempts for people to put the blame on anyone but themselves.
I think social security is a safety net for the financially irresponsible. I thought The Insider was a great movie from a strictly entertainment perspective (don’t get ahead of me on this one!), and I enjoyed it very much. Russell Crowe is Jeffrey Wigand, a Brown and Williamson VP of Research and Development whose conscience compels him to blow the whistle on the industry. He claims that Big Tobacco has been covering up scientific research that proves nicotine is addictive and harmful. The writing puts a lot of energy into making sure that Wigand is a sufficiently complicated character, and one that we sympathize with.
To be sure, he’s not entirely one-dimensional. Initially, he does what most of us would do in his position: he takes the money and benefits that the company offers him in return for silence. After all, the guy has a family to look out for. But then Wigand is tortured over his passiveness, wondering if he should take a more aggressive stance with his potentially damaging knowledge. 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, sensing a big story in the works, tries to coax Wigand into talking.
An energetic Al Pacino, who fights to get the story on the air, only to have it snuffed by CBS, plays Bergman here. Allegedly, the television network was possibly up for sale around the time of this story, and airing it might have damaged their image with controversy, making it less appealing to potential suitors. This, coupled with the threat of lawsuit from Brown and Williamson, made CBS refuse to air the story. The Insider portrays these events as a crusade on the part of Bergman and Wigand to get the truth out there, against the will of Big Business and Bigger Tobacco. And while Bergman is never portrayed as much more than a journalist with an uncharacteristic amount of integrity, Wigand is a great character to follow as he tries to balance out everything around him. Tortured and sleepless, his reactions are what you would expect from someone forced to choose between the safety of his family with the gravity of what he knows.
Most of it makes for edge of your suit viewing. Suspense abounds, and AL Pacino’s confrontations with the “evil” corporate executives, censors, and whatnot are the centerpiece of the movie. He gets to climb up on the soapbox and belt out a few speeches about truth and justice and freedom and right and wrong and all that other fun stuff. It’s tense, and it’s really quite fascinating, actually. From a dramatic standpoint, this movie couldn’t have asked for better performances.
Gina Gershon makes an appearance in the movie as a tough, icy corporate attorney for CBS. As a standard caricature of faceless law more interested in money than people, she’s fabulous. The Insider runs at over two and half hours, but always remains interesting and never drags. The biggest issue I have with this movie is how it so comfortably passes itself off as an unbiased, historical representation of what happened between real life executive Jeffrey Wigand, real life producer Lowell Bergman, and real life corporation Brown and Williamson. The problem is that the movie is so well crafted and so interesting that it’s very easy to accept it as 100% Grade A Truth. However, this is clearly Wigand’s story, and closer inspection would reveal that the main characters here are just a little too perfect to be real.
Did Bergman really storm into the offices of CBS and rant and rave the way AL Pacino does in this movie? Some words might have been exchanged, but it’s hard to believe anything as dramatic as what’s depicted in The Insider could have happened for real. They would have likely said, “Okay, calm down, have a cup of coffee, have a cigarette. And why do you keep yelling HOO-WAH?” It would be nice to believe that such White Knights exist, those who unconditionally put What’s Right ahead of themselves. But let’s be realistic: these were real men, not angels, or prophets, and to idolize them and glorify them as heroes armed with the written word is just too much to swallow. Unfortunately, It’s fine to be opposed to Big Tobacco and despise them for addicting millions to their products; but please, base your hatred on facts and not fiction. Anti-tobacco camps use their fair share of propaganda, but all of that seems conveniently ignored in this movie.
If you don’t believe crusaders of health can bend words just as deceptively as Big Tobacco, consider this commercialized statement: second hand smoke is worse than the smoke that the smoker inhales. Sounds good, doesn’t it? After all, the smoker has a filter on the end of that cancer stick, and you’ve just got a cloud of smoke. But common sense and just a brief moment of self-inspired thought should tell you one thing: the smoker is inhaling the smoke through the filter in addition to the “second hand” smoke floating around the both of you. So how is he better off? My own personal beliefs (jump back to the beginning of this summary if you need a refresher) not with standing, The Insider is just too nauseatingly one-sided to be real. It’s interesting, yes, but issues this complicated are never divided so black and white in real life.