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Films >> Insider, The (1999) >>

Michael Mann's intense drama about The Insider was released in 1999 to a host of stellar reviews. In fact, it was difficult to find a film critic who was not enamored by it. Even the criticisms that were voiced could be seen as minor flaws, at best. Seemingly all reviews of this film praised both the skills of Mann as well as the unbelievably talented cast, especially Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, and Christopher Plummer. Indeed, it was the popular consensus that The Insider was both an entertaining and informative piece that was sure to captivate audiences. It seemed likely that The Insider was destined for success at the 2000 Academy Awards, but, alas, the critics' hopes for this film were left unrealized as it took home the big prize for none of its nine nominations that night. It would forever remain a critically-acclaimed success that was not appreciated nearly enough by the masses.

Interestingly enough, the fact that this film is based on a true story did not seem to come up much in the reviews. No one complained about any gross misrepresentations of the truth or large inaccuracies in the story line...except, of course, for those real people who were portrayed in The Insider as less than perfect! Several reviews mentioned Mike Wallace's disapproval of the film itself and how he was portrayed; obviously, though, this is something that is bound to happen when a film is created based on a true story and real people. Also oddly absent from the majority of the reviews was the angle about the role the media plays in the film. Mann portrays CBS as a money-hungry, valueless corporation ready to abandon the journalistic integrity of its flagship program 60 Minutes just to improve its chances at clinching a lucrative business deal. Perhaps the film reviewers are so used to this sort of corruption in the media world that they didn't feel the need to make a point of it in their pieces.

Ansen, David. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Dark Tales of the Tobacco Wars Light Up the Screen." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Newsweek 8 Nov. 1999: 98.
This review captures the excellence of Mann's ability to make a thrilling film about a seemingly mundane news story: "Mann could probably make a movie about needlepoint riveting." While also praising the acting of Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, Ansen acknowledges that creative license was indeed used in the case of Lowell Bergman's character and perhaps that of Mike Wallace, as well. Still, this reviewer feels that The Insider accomplishes much in its revelation of just how guarded the secrets of Big Tobacco are.
Baehr, Ted. "The Insider." Human Events 19 November 1999: 16.
"Playing like an edge-of-your-seat political thriller, The Insider nevertheless has a mild socialistic, humanist worldview with politically correct elements and a tone of historical revisionism, despite its positive moral qualities, For instance, it fails to reveal the Marxist past of the "60 Minutes" producer's college training. It also fails to consider the dangers of letting Big Brother government harass legal businesses in order to exist on money from them, money that will be used to pay for huge social programs. Such social programs seem to be just as addictive as the nicotine in any cigarette.
Corliss, Richard. "Deep Throat Takes Center Stage." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Time 1 Nov. 1999: 98.
"The real gangsters are tobacco barons in Louisville, Ky., and network lawyers in New York City. They speak in genial or condoling tones; they have only the best interests of their corporations at heart and truly hope you see it their way. Otherwise they'll crush you. Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur (played by Michael Gambon) has a manner as smooth as the draw of a Kool menthol into the lungs, and every bit as toxic. A CBS attorney (Gina Gershon) softly, crisply tells the lords of 60 Minutes that they must submit to a higher authority--Mammon. The byline is nothing compared to the bottom line. It's a dark reality that Mike Wallace (a deft impersonation by Christopher Plummer) has to juggle. Does his loyalty belong to his current CBS bosses or to the ghost of Edward R. Murrow?"
Douglas, Clifford. "Hollywood Hails a Tobacco Whistleblower." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. British Medical Journal 4 Dec. 1999: 1508.
As a writer for a medical journal, Douglas offers a unique perspective on the film. He is most concerned with this film's role in the public battle against Big Tobacco. This is where he finds his fault. He claims that "The Insider oversells the relative importance and impact of its story, which is simply one chapter in a longer tale." Still, Douglas does seem to be pleased with the fact that Mann's film has called attention to a very important crusade in the health industry, admitting that "by fuelling [sic] public revulsion, the film should help speed the growing cultural tide against the tobacco industry and its lethal product -- a valuable contribution by any measure."
Foreman, Jonathan. "Putting Their Ashes on the Line: 'The Insider' A Stylish Tale of Heroism and Betrayal in the Battle against Big Tobacco." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. New York Post 5 Nov. 1999: 52.
Foreman is full of compliments for the actors in this film, calling Russell Crowe's performance "magnificent" and proclaiming that "the great [Christopher] Plummer...steals the movie with his brilliant, devastating impersonation of Mike Wallace." But Foreman is nonplussed by Mann's use of this whistleblower tale as anything truly crucial to society, arguing that "[i]t's not as if the fate of the republic depends on the public being told the news that cigarettes are dangerous, and that cigarette companies can be ruthless and dishonest." Didn't we already know that?
Grossman, Lawrence. "The Insider: It's Only a Movie." Columbia Journalism Review 38.4 (1999): 60-62.
"Notwithstanding the artifice the movie-makers employ to tell the real story, no one will leave the theater under the illusion that Christopher Plummer is actually Mike Wallace, that Al Pacino is really Lowell Bergman, or that The Insider is an entirely faithful and factual account of what happened, although most people undoubtedly will feel, as Marie Brenner does, that the movie version is close enough to the truth. But "close enough" is an ironic standard for a "true story" about journalists; journalists do cross every 't,' dot every 'i' and check every fact because when fact and fiction are blurred, the world of reality becomes the world of make-believe. Therein lies the difference between how journalists and moviemakers tell stories."
Johnson, Brian D. "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Maclean's 8 Nov. 1999: 86.
Johnson compares the exciting gangster-style of The Insider to another of Mann's famous projects, his hit series Miami Vice. Both have "electrifying visuals and lush soundscapes," but when you add to that the intense story behind The Insider, he claims that "the result is extraordinary." Like the other reviews, this one is full of compliments for Mann while admitting that he did mold the facts a bit to his advantage. One interesting insight of Johnson's: "It is so rare to see a juicy Hollywood movie that exposes corporate America without even changing the names." Indeed it is, and it makes the movie all the more powerful.
Lacayo, Richard. "Truth and Consequences." Time 1 Nov. 1999: 18.
Lacayo focuses on the issue of credibility. It is the credibility of Wigand, Bergman, Wallace, 60 Minutes, and especially CBS that is at stake in The Insider. Interestingly enough, the issue of credibility is also brought up concerning the film itself, especially the liberty with which director Michael Mann fictionalized certain events. It seems like everyone has a different version of the truth, which is not so difficult to believe considering that the film "tells a complicated story involving true insiders, people who confer in closed-door corporate meetings."
Maslin, Janet. "Mournful Echoes of a Whistle-Blower." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. New York Times 5 Nov. 1999: E1.
Maslin can find no faults with Mann's film, labeling it his "most fully realized and enthralling work." Her comments are equally positive about the film's cast. She is most impressed, however, with the visual effects of The Insider. Maslin calls attention to numerous aspects of this, such as the "raw-nerved, changeable camera style," the "stunningly evocative images," and the "dazzling cinematography of Dante Spinotti."
Parks, Louis B. "Heroism at Forefront of 'Insider'.'' Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Houston Chronicle 5 Nov. 1999: 7.
Parks feels that The Insider was constructed almost perfectly, with his only complaint being the overuse of the close-up. He regards this film as "solid, thought-provoking, and exciting." Additionally, he notes the importance of the film's non-preaching stance on the moral issues it presents. This allows the audience to form its own opinions, without being swayed. Parks' best marks are reserved for Russell Crowe, though, who he says "gives a beautiful, restrained portrait of Wigand as a barely contained volcano and a deeply conflicted and flawed personality."
Rainer, Peter. "Nicotine Fit." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. The New York Observer.
Rainer takes a skeptical look at how director Michael Mann depicts the "heroes" of this film: "the film's real subject, instead, is how the stakes have become so high in modern corporate culture that the whistleblowers and up playing by the same rules as the ones being whistled at [and] they all kowtow to the same greenback god." Lowell Bergman is a "muckraker," and Pacino's depiction is a "showboat performance." Mann is accused of being something of an ambulance chaser since the film is a "ripped-from-the-headlines glamorama-Hollywood-thriller." The film is diminished because the real-world Jeffrey Wigand story never truly stops Big Tobacco, and thus The Insider has has "little cause to cheer for."
Simon, John. "Truth Up in Smoke." National Review 6 Dec. 1999: 71.
Highly praises every thing: "It is rare for a Hollywood movie to be both commercial and artistic, both a nail-biting expose a la All the President's Men and a socio-political art film like those of Gillo Pontecorvo and Francesco Rosi. But The Insider is such a film: a superb quasi-documentary telling a reallife story (though not all of it, and with a few names changed)."
Sterrit, David. "The Scoop: 'Insider' Delivers Great Drama." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Christian Science Monitor 5 Nov. 1999: 15.
Calling it "one of the most stirring movies of this increasingly strong year," this review focuses on the compelling tale The Insider tells, while barely mentioning the performances of the actors. Sterrit delves into the major moral issue present in the film, which revolves around Jeffrey Wigand's inner conflict between his own rights vs. those of the greater good. Still, Sterrit is quick to point out that Mann's film is no documentary but is a very engaging treat, complete with "appealing stars, neatly scripted dialogue, and crisply constructed scenes."
Travers, Peter. "The Insider." Rolling Stone 25 Nov. 1999: 111-12.
"Accuse Mann of overlength, bombast, dramatic license; his film is still mandatory viewing. With its dynamite performances, strafing wit and dramatic provocation, The Insider offers Mann at his best blood up, unsanitized and unbowed."

See Also

Brady, Terrence J. Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Pan & Scan Reviews 24 March 2003.

Carr, Jay. "Heavy-handed 'Insider' a Smart, if Smug, Story." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Boston Globe 5 Nov. 1999: D6.

Clark, Mike. "'The Insider' Masterfully Lifts the Smoke Screen." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Life 5 Nov. 1999: 1E.

Cunneen, Joseph. "Power and Faith." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. National Catholic Reporter 3 Dec. 1999: 17.

Denby, David. "The Odd Couple." New Yorker 8 November 1999: 102-4.

Strickler, Jeff. "Kickin' ash." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Star Tribune 5 Nov. 1999: 35.

Williams, Dan. "Looking for a Few Good Heroes." Rev. of The Insider, dir. Michael Mann. Jerusalem Post 24 Jan. 2000: 7.