The FILM IN WORDS Netflix Film of the Week: helping you navigate the filmic minefield of the nation’s favourite video streaming service.
Words: Brody Rossiter
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Reuniting directorial crime-lord, Michael Mann, and the ever volatile Al Pacino, while situating the incomparable Russell Crowe alongside the illustrious pair of HEAT alumni, The Insider is an uncompromising American drama of the highest order. The picture is a typically brooding Mann offering, veiled in a foreboding sense of darkness throughout; its washed-out visual bleakness accompanied by an equally muscular and menacing scrip pulsating with fear, isolation, and loneliness. Despite such an uninviting set of adjectives proving pertinent when accessing The Insider, it is also a riveting and energetic thriller, finding its foundation in the real-life struggle of one man who stared down the American Tobacco Industry while they held a proverbial, and perhaps very real, gun to his and his family’s heads.
In 1996, Jeffrey Wigand blew the whistle on the highly profitable yet abusive and ultimately life-threatening practices of his former employers, Tobacco corporation, Brown & Williamson. As former Vice President of Research and Development, Wigand became aware of the practice of adding additives to manipulate tobacco delivery throughout the body and increase levels of addictiveness in cigarettes. Wigand’s insider knowledge was bound up in red tape due to an iron-clad confidentiality agreement, but following his unfair dismissal, the experienced VP decided to defy his agreement and go to the press, specifically America’s most esteemed televised newsmagazine, 60 Minutes.
Not only are the pervasive day-to-day conflicts of Wigand’s life documented, but also the journalistic turmoil which surfaces between the 60 Minutes’ editorial team and CBS; the television station’s objections to airing an unedited version of Wigand’s TV testimony for the fear of facing legal repercussions proved highly incendiary. Al Pacino’s transition from Lt. Vincent Hanna in HEAT, to sleuth journo Lowell Bergman retains the palpable sense of authenticity and relentlessness, providing a perfect counterpoint Russell Crowe’s increasingly demoralised and panicked, yet still defiant portrayal of Wigand. Physically Crowe’s transformation into the greying, overweight family man, whose world falls of its once lofty podium is also one of the most committed of his career.
Nominated for Seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Insider oozes sophistication and maturity alongside its hard-hitting storytelling. The casting is impeccable, the soundtrack underrated (as are the musical choices of many of Mann’s films) and the performances are some of the most arresting, Pacino, Crowe, and Christopher Plummer have ever delivered. The Insider is undeniably a modern cinematic great – second only to HEAT amongst Mann’s filmography – and a deeply memorable study of characters, corporations and the shocking lengths to which both will go in the name of the secrets they keep.