Coughing up the Truth
The Insider
Review by Ross Anthony

Based on the May 1996 Vanity Fair article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner, "The Insider" follows the trials and tribulations of a former big tobacco executive who coughs up sobering truths concerning cigarette addiction. Mann's script remains boldly true to the article, right down to naming names (CBS, Wallace, B&W, etc.); Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore even plays himself, "I saw it as a chance to have some fun and be a part of history again." (Quote from production notes.)

Russell Crowe, almost completely unrecognizable from his long-haired, hockey-playing, mountain man look in "Mystery, Alaska," works out the nervous cricks in his neck as the middle-aged, whistle-blowing, former VP of B&M (Kools, Viceroy). Managing the difficult role of an intelligent, imperfectly sincere, tough, slowly crumbling pillar, Crowe displays appropriately tamed flare and rugged modesty.

Pacino plays Lowell Bergman, producer of "60 minutes" and Wallace's right hand guy. It's Lowell that erects the soap box/guillotine for Dr. Wigand's big bean spillage. Willing to loose it all (family, reputation, even freedom), Dr. Wigand refuses to be squelched by Tobacco's less than subtle intimidation tactics (including but not limited to death threats). In fact, the movie plays a bit like a horror flick at times ... Is the house safe for the family? Will one of the kids be snatched away? Will an un-snuffed cigar butt start the place on fire? Wigand weighs the risks: personal welfare vs. right vs. stubborn horse pride, "I can't seem to find the criteria to decide."

Eventually, Lowell's proximity and passion to this truth-teller leaves him feeling the stinging singes of hot coals as well. Pacino's performance, as in other films, is flawless. He's strong, passionate and completely driven.

Interestingly enough, I don't recall a single lit cigarette or pipe in the entire picture, not even from a passer-by; perhaps making the film's only flaw (if you wish to call it that) a wisping tendency toward the preachy. Nonetheless, "The Insider" delivers good entertaining drama. After it's two hour and thirty-seven minute duration, you'll still be left wanting more.

  • The Insider. Copyright © 1999. Rated R.
  • Starring Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer and Diane Venora.
  • Directed by Michael Mann.
  • Screenplay by Eric Roth and Michael Mann.
  • Produced by Michael Mann & Pieter Jan Brugge at Touchstone.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:07:54 PDT