Insider [1999]

As revisionist history, Michael Mann's intelligent docudrama The Insider is a simmering brew of altered facts and dramatic license. In a broader perspective, however, the film (cowritten with Forrest Gump Oscar-winner Eric Roth) is effectively accurate as an engrossing study of ethics in the corruptible industries of tobacco and broadcast journalism. On one side, there is Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), the former tobacco scientist who violated contractual agreements to expose Brown & Williamson's inclusion of addictive ingredients in cigarettes, casting himself into a vortex of moral dilemma. On the other side is 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), whose struggle to report Wigand's story puts him at odds with veteran correspondent Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) and senior executives at CBS News. As the urgency of the story increases, so does the film's palpable sense of paranoia, inviting favorable comparison to All the President's Men. While Pacino downplays the theatrical excess that plagued him in previous roles, Crow is superb as a man who retains his tortured integrity at great personal cost. The Insider is two movies--a cover-up thriller and a drama about journalistic ethics--that combine to embrace the noble values personified by Wigand and Bergman. Even if the details aren't always precise (as Mike Wallace and others protested prior to the film's release), the film adheres to a higher truth that was so blatantly violated by tobacco executives seen in an oft-repeated video clip, lying under oath in the service of greed. --Jeff Shannon

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