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The Insider

October 9, 2007

What happens when big corporations try to cover up their misdeeds, by invoking confidentiality agreements, and try to influence the media? What happens when a man puts his life and career on the line, for the sake of truth? What happens when the media instead of being a watchdog of society, starts to become a pet poodle of the big business interests, forgetting it’s objectives? These are some of the issues raised in Michael Mann’s 1999 movie The Insider starring Al Pacino and Russel Crowe.

The Insider
is based on the true story of Jeffrey Wigand(played by Russel Crowe), who blew the whistle on the shady practices of the tobbaco industry, while working as a Vice President of R&D at tobacco major Brown& Williamson. The company famous for it’s brands like Lucky Strike and Pell Mell, was involved in the shady technique of impact boosting, deliberately increasing the nicotine content in cigarettes, to make it more addictive for user. In 1995, Jeffrey Wigand, blew the whistle on this shady practice, on the famous 60 Minutes TV series aired by CBS. The show was produced by Lowell Bergman( played by Al Pacino), one of the foremost names in TV news reporting. Bergman had a reputation for his expose on topics like the Middle East crisis, drug trafficking, the arms trade.

The movie starts off with Bergman seeing a Sheik in the Mid East region, for arranging an interview with the 60 minutes correspondent Mike Wallace( played by Christopher Plummer). And then we see Wigand explain to his wife that he had been fired from his company. In the meantime Bergman receives an anonymous parcel about the tobacco company Philip Morris, and a cigarette and fair safety study. In order to get a better understanding, Bergman requests the help of Wigand, who meets him at a Louisville hotel. Wigand agrees to be a consultant, but says he cant talk more as he is bound by the confidentiality agreement. On discussing with CEO of Brown and Williamson, he is asked to sign another confidentiality agreement.

Wigand believs Bergman fed the information, which Bergman subsequently denies. In the meantime CEO’s of the 7 major tobacco companies in US, testify to Congress that they know nothing of addiction to nicotine, and also start a smear campaign against Wigand. It is then that Bergman suggests Wigand give his version on 60 minutes, and also tells him to speak through a court of law. As Wigand finds himself a victim of terror tactics, Bergman steps in to protect Wigand, and thats when Wigand starts to reveal the truth about the tobacco majors, and how they have ignored public health in pursuit of profit. In the mean time CBS News tries to air an edited version, as it comes under pressure from it’s parent CBS, and in spite of Bergman’s objections, he is totally sidelined. Watch the rest of the movie to see what happens.

As an expose on the malpractices of the tobacco industry, The Insider is relentlessley intense and searing. The movie deals with the issues of integrity and conscience. Jeffrey Wigand puts his career on the line, he could have ignored everything and stuck to his cushy job. But he chooses to listen to his conscience, and pays a heavy price for it. He is threatened, his wife leaves him, fearing threats to their family, he is harassed, bullied and intimidated. The tobacco majors begin a smear campaign on him by indulging in vicious personal attacks, and trying to highlight his mistakes. In real life too Wigand admitted being harassed and threatened, but he was finally vindicated, and he now works as a teacher.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is a meeting at a Japanese restuarant between Wigand and Bergman. This is where Bergman asks Wigand, whether he has any thing that his opponents could use to attack him.

Jeffrey Wigand: I have to put my family’s welfare on the line here, my friend! And what are you puttin’ up? You’re puttin’ up words!
Lowell Bergman: Words? While you’ve been dickin’ around at some f**g company golf tournaments, I been out in the world, giving my word and backing it up with action.

Another great scene is Bergman’s outburst against his producers, for bowing to commercial considerations. One of the most memorable piece of dialogue you have ever heard.

You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own f**g confidentiality agreement. And he’s only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who’s out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he’s not telling the truth? No. Because he is telling the truth. That’s why we’re not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!

Somehow dont the above words ring true for what is happening in the Indian media also today. Another favorite scene of mine is when Bergman has a showdown with his bosses, who accuse him of leaking to the media.

Don Hewitt: This news division has been villified by the New York Times! In print, on television, for *caving* to corporate interests! New York Times ran a blow by blow of what we talked about behind closed doors! You f**ked us!


Lowell Bergman: No, you f**ked you! Don’t invert stuff! Big Tobacco tried to smear Wigand, you bought it. The Wall Street Journal, here: not exactly a bastion of anti-capitalist sentiment, refutes Big Tobacco’s smear campaign as the lowest form of character assassination! And now, even now, when every word of what Wigand has said on our show is printed, the entire deposition of his testimony in a court of law in the State of Mississippi, the cat totally out of the bag, you’re still standing here debating! Don, what the hell else do you need?
Don Hewitt: Mike, you tell him.
Mike Wallace: You f**Ked up, Don.

And yes when the prosecuting attorney Ron Motley, goes hammer and tongs at the defense attorney, with the famous “Wipe that smirk of your face”.

Defense Lawyer: Dr. Wigand, I am instructing you not to answer that question in accordance to the terms of the contractual obligations undertaken by you not to disclose any information about your work at the Brown and Williamson tobacco company, and in accordance with the force and effect of the temporary restraining order that has been entered against you by the court in the state of Kentucky. That means you don’t talk! Mr. Motley we have rights here.

Ron Motley: Boy, you got rights… and lefts. Ups and downs and middles. So what? You don’t get to instruct anything around here! This is not North Carolina, not South Carolina, nor Kentucky! This is the sovereign state of Mississippi’s proceedings. Wipe that smirk off your face! Dr. Wigand’s deposition will be part of this record! And I’m gonna take my witness’ testimony whether the hell you like it or not!

The Insider proves that one can capture the audience attention without resorting to car chases, gun fights, special effects or gimmicks. This is a movie that runs on solid old fashioned virtues like screenplay, script and characterization. Some of the dramatic moments are really intense. And of course the movie has some great performances too.

Al Pacino as usual is in top form as Lowell Bergman, playing the righteous crusader to the hilt. Watch his outburst in the scene when he discovers his superiors are trying to get the show off the network.

Russel Crowe matches Pacino equally well, not a mean fact, considering that Pacino usually has a habit of stealing the show. He is brilliant in the Japanese restaurant scene, providing a cool calm counterpoint to Pacino’s fiery bluster.

Among the supporting act, Christopher Plummer( of The Sound of Music fame) is excellent as the investigative reporter Mike Wallace, and Bruce McGill is outstanding as prosecuting attorney Ron Motley, especially in the court scene.

So my reco is go for this movie, to see some great performances, excellent dramatic scenes, and superb direction from Michael Mann. Not to be missed at any cost.

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From → 90's Hollywood

One Comment
  1. This movies is part of quite a lot of B-School's academic syllabus. Great movie.

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