Tuesday, November 29, 2011
#249: The Insider
All fans of the movies have one big movie that did it for them. The Insider it is for me. I first saw the film as a part of an learning beyond academics sort of a workshop during my MBA. And for the next month, I saw it once every day and that is no exaggeration. These were days when true gritty stories meant more than fairy tales like Finding Neverland which was another hot favorite on campus. In fact in the genre of hot campus favorites, I am not sure if The Insider would ever figure in my friends' list but somehow it moved me immensely.
First, the fact that this was a true story. Then the fact that this was a whistleblower story. Then the fact that it had Al Pacino. And that it wasn't even a lead. That it even had Russell Crowe. That the cinematography in a movie seething in pessimism and wrong-doing could be so poetic. That even the music enhanced the frame every time it came on. That Mike Wallace's words pierce you even if they're directed at Gina Gershon. That it still didn't win any Oscar - the irony and ecstasy of a whistleblower film falling short of a symbol of the pinnacle of achievement in films. Isn't that in itself something ? Or am I beginning to make this up ?
As you can see, the list is endless. But enough of praise here, let me take you through what the film is about. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) is a research head in a big tobacco company. He has enough reason to believe that nicotine is addictive and when his seniors get to know that he might let this fact out in the media, they fire him and in a typically high-handed and predictable manner threaten his family's well-being. Enter Lowell Bergman (Pacino), producer of the high-profile CBS show 60 Minutes. Bergman senses Wigand could talk and spill some hefty beans here and he draws him out. Wigand struggles with the right thing to do as does Bergman in his role as a producer who has to convince his owners to air a potentially damning episode. So effectively, it is a story of two men in a moral war in different battlegrounds. The Insider steadily builds up momentum and before you know it takes you through a tantalising ride for 157 minutes. Superbly written by Marie Brennan, Eric Roth and Michael Mann, it takes the struggles of these two men fighting for their right to speak the truth, to an ultimate high and sustains the thrills with incredible alacrity. Michael Mann with the directorial reins doesn't have a moment in here that isn't arresting enough to keep you glued to your seat. Some stunning photography by Dante Spinotti supports the director's vision to the T. And the acting- perfect. Just perfect - there's more to say here.
There are films that intoxicate you, shake you from inside and brew inside your head for a long time. Today as I write this review 6 years after I first saw the film, I am not referencing or cross checking the names of the characters from Imdb or Wikipedia. The names, the costumes, the sets, the supporting characters- they're all fresh in my mind and every scene is well set in my imagination. I even remember the dialgoues word by word. That's what The Insider meant to me then, means to me today and will mean to me forever: an emphatically indelible impression. After all this is not a film, it is a life-changing experience.