The Insider: Based on True Story of a “Whistle Blower”

The only time that I had seen Al Pacino being overshadowed in a movie was by Marlon Brando in 1972 classic “The Godfather”. Marlon had till then established himself while Al was in the business for less then 5 years. Nevertheless it was an expected outcome.


The second time when I saw Al being overshadowed was in “The Insider” and this time it was by Russell Crowe, atleast for the first half of the movie. Russell’s acting in this movie was deservedly rewarded by nomination for Academy Award which he unfortunately lost to Kevin Spacey for “American Beauty”.


Based on a true story of Dr. Jeffery Wigand (Russell Crowe) and a journalist Lowel Bergman, (Al Pacino) who is also a producer of a popular T.V. show “The sixty minutes” on CBS news, The Insider represents a tale of two very different individual.


The story begins when Wigand is fired from a tobacco company. He has undertaken a confidentiality agreement of not disclosing any details about the functioning of the company. Simultaneously Bergman is covering a story about fire safety from cigarettes. During this investigation he comes across a lot of scientific facts which he was not able to comprehend. Therefore he looks for someone who can decipher information from them in layman terms. His search leads him to Wigand who is hesitant to even meet him. This arouses a suspicion in the mind of the Bergman who believes that Wigand is hiding some facts that can be useful for the investigation and is apprehensive in revealing them.


On the other hand Wigand is being hounded by his past employer to sign another extended contract of confidentiality, just to be on the safe side.


Bergman tries to persuade Wigand to come on the show and sit for an interview with Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer). Knowing about the confidentiality agreement between the Wigand and his company Bergman knows his hands are tied and as such he cannot pressurise the doctor into taking any step.


However, his legal department advice him that if the Wigand had to give a statement in the court first, then the confidentiality agreement wont be binding on him.


During his investigation, Bergman comes across an attorney who represents state of Mississippi against the tobacco company B&W and would be willing to take the statement of Wigand for the case. Bergman plans to get Wigand testified in front of the court and subsequently he can appear for the interview at CBS news.


The ice finally breaks between the Wigand and Bergman when the Wigand finds threatening emails and a bullet in his letter box. He compels Bergman to take his interview even before the testimony. Bergman agrees to it. However he can only air the show after the testimony.


Wigand’s interview is recorded and he flies to Mississippi against the wish of his wife to testify in the court. This makes him loose the support of his wife who is afraid that he is jeopardising the life of his family and files for a divorce against him.


He had to take up a job as a lecturer in a college to earn a living. If this was not enough, Bergman and Wallace are informed that they cannot air the show. The reason is that if it is adjudicated that confidentiality agreement between two parties has been dishonoured due to interference of a third party, third party could be held liable and hence sued by the aggrieved party. CBS Corporation fears that B&W can sue them for multi billion dollars for damages. CBS news is asked to hold on to the interview, withdraw the names and other sensitive information and then air the alternate version.


Bergman gets infuriated by such an act. On the other hand, after the testimony of the Wigand in the court, B&W Corporation starts a smear campaign to disgrace the Wigand. New York Post and Wall Street Journal gets information about previous events of doctor’s life and they start an investigation against him.


Unable to see an honest man being held due to the fault of his corporation, Bergman leaks the news to the press. His reason “when I tell someone I’ll do something, I deliver”. This statement holds the gist of the movie. New York Times publishes the interview and criticises B&W in running a low level smear campaign against a true person. It also criticises CBS news for not delivering what they had promised and what is very vital news for people inhaling nicotine.


In the end, Bergman’s partners believe they had committed a mistake and put the show on air.


The movie is not just about the multi-million dollar settlements that the tobacco company had to pay in reality but it is more about the corporate culture and lack of ethics prevailing. Bergman and Wigand had to decide whether to go for the truth or to run away from it.


Was it Al Pacino’s speech in front of his partners or the one criticizing his lawyers, he pulls an applauding performance. He acts well as a rightful stubborn ethical producer. Russell Crowe also pulls an enormous performance as a under pressured “whistle blower” who risks his family and reputation for the truth.


However the movie could have been benefitted with some smart editing. It runs for 2 hours 37 minutes but at some places it just drags on. The background music, especially the one when Wigand thinks about his past, is simply great and puts extra weight in the silence when no one speaks. The background score when Wigand is facing the sea in Mississippi and preparing himself for the court is also worth listening. The direction by Michael Mann is also worth appreciating. He is able to extract great performance from everyone in his cast. And it won’t be fair if acting of Christopher Plummer and Phillip Baker Hall is not appreciated.


It is definitely worth renting this movie, atleast for couple of times.

Pradyuman Singh Rawat

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