The Insider

USA 1999

Film still for The Insider

Reviewed by Mark Kermode


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The US, the present. Lowell Bergman, producer of Mike Wallace's segments for the news programme 60 Minutes on CBS, receives anonymously sent documents concerning tobacco research. He approaches Jeffrey Wigand, recently fired from research and development at tobacco giant Brown and Williamson (B&W), to interpret the findings and senses Wigand has a story to tell. B&W threatens to withdraw Wigand's medical benefits unless he signs a further confidentiality agreement. Despite this, Wigand tells 60 Minutes on camera several incriminating facts: the company deliberately manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes; an additive called comaurin was used after it had been shown to cause cancer in rats; cigarette companies knew they were in the business of "nicotine delivery" even though the seven CEOs of the biggest tobacco companies (including B&W president Thomas Sandefur) swore before an April 1994 congressional hearing that they did not believe nicotine to be addictive.

After receiving death threats, Wigand accepts bodyguards into his home. As his marriage collapses, Wigand's reputation is smeared by a B&W-funded investigation. Wigand travels to Mississippi to give a deposition in the state's ongoing case against the tobacco industry, even though a Kentucky ruling forbids him to do so. As 60 Minutes prepares to air its story, CBS lawyer Helen Caperelli warns of "tortious interference", a legal precedent which may endanger CBS for encouraging Wigand to break his confidentiality agreement. When the story is aired without Wigand's interview, Bergman leaks information to the New York Times which accuses CBS of spiking the story to avoid damaging a merger deal with Westinghouse. After extracts from Wigand's deposition are made public and his smearing is widely debunked, Wigand's interview appears unexpurgated on 60 Minutes.


"There is no question," wrote journalist Marie Brenner in her head-turning Vanity Fair article 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', "that [Jeffrey] Wigand's presence in the tobacco wars is an accident, without grand design." There is also little question that few film-makers could fashion an engrossing thriller around the complex web of deceit which surrounds the modern tobacco industry, and fewer still could do so without recourse to easily discernible heroic central figures, pitiable victims or the reduction of the story to simple plot points. That Michael Mann has resisted the temptation to dumb down this material for The Insider reaffirms his position as one of the most important and intelligent directors currently working in mainstream cinema. He has created a tense psychological suspenser as complex and uncompromising as it is engaging and enthralling. It is, in short, a masterpiece, a brilliant dissection of recent US politics and the media by a scalpel-sharp screen sensibility.

Flying in the face of accepted movie law which states real events must be drastically simplified for on-screen use, The Insider's edgy screenplay (by Mann and Eric Roth) sticks surprisingly close to the rambling, nitty-gritty facts outlined in Brenner's original article. Proudly stretching towards the three-hour mark that few films genuinely merit, The Insider remains, brisk, brave and ballsy enough to allow events to speak for themselves. It's indeed a surprise to learn the one or two overtly 'dramatic' moments which appear to have been concocted for the benefit of the viewer (Bergman's midnight calls and subsequent anonymous hotel meeting with Wigand; Wigand's last-minute arrival at the Mississippi courthouse) are lifted directly from fact. Real names, rather than the customary legally protective pseudonyms, are used throughout, lending The Insider a cool air of credibility so often lacking in latter-day political potboilers. One is tempted to compare it to All the President's Men (1976), but that hardly does service to The Insider's brash effrontery. After all, everyone knew that Nixon was corrupt and had resigned by the time Alan Pakula's movie hit the screens. He was, therefore, a sitting duck, while Mann's target (the tobacco corporations) is still powerful and on the move.

Eschewing any action set-pieces (other than the unconnected opening salvo showing producer Bergman negotiating with Middle-Eastern militiamen), Mann's direction expands on the paradoxically intimate use of widescreen showcased to such involving effect in Heat. He zeroes in on the facial and physical convolutions of characters locked in intense conversation, finding action in the minutiae of apparent inaction. Pacino's dark features drift in and out of shadow, exquisitely choreographed by Dante Spinotti's cinematography which treats the landscape of human features and inhuman cityscapes with the same sense of awe. Rising to the challenge of such close-quarter encounters, Pacino plays the éminence grise to the hilt, relishing a part for which he is perfect in terms of physique, charisma and reputation.

More startling, however, is the transformation of Russell Crowe, the formerly lithe star of such muscular vehicles as Romper Stomper. Here he seems to have shrunk in height and ballooned in girth, metamorphosing from the glamorous thug cop he played in L.A. Confidential into the bumbling, harried picture of awkwardness trapped at the centre of this infernal feud. Whether it is his eyes, constantly avoiding the gaze of both camera and other characters; his fingers, fidgeting incessantly, or his speech patterns, broken into a form of Morse code, Crowe brings Wigand to the screen in all his unlikeable splendour, resisting any temptation to make him any more than a man manoeuvred into actions with accidentally heroic consequences.

The supporting performances are also uniformly handsome, from Christopher Plummer's ever-so-slightly slimy Mike Wallace and Michael Gambon's satanically smooth-tongued B&Wpresident to Gina Gershon's spiky corporate lawyer and Diane Venora's increasingly exasperated (but never caricatured) wife. What a pleasure, too, to see the vastly underrated Wings Hauser getting the chance to flex his spectacular lantern jaw as the attorney from hell. Add to this Mann's usual sensual use of music and The Insider ought to walk off with a basket of Oscars in March. The fact that it won't says more about the state of the international film industry and the ticket-buying/cigarette-smoking public than it does about Michael Mann and his movie. Both are magnificent: they should be proud to be outsiders.


Michael Mann
Michael Mann
Pieter Jan Brugge
Eric Roth
Michael Mann
Based on the Vanity Fair article The Man Who Knew Too Much by Marie Brenner
Director of Photography
Dante Spinotti
Pieter Bourke
Lisa Gerrard
©Touchstone Pictures
Production Companies
Touchstone Pictures presents a Mann/Roth production a Forward Pass picture
Michael Waxman
Line Producers
Avi Kleinberger
Shlomo Urbach
Associate Producers
Gusmano Cesaretti
Kathleen M. Shea
Production Associate
Carlo Bernard
Production Supervisors
Sherry Marshall
New York:
Monica Levinson
Abaco Bahamas:
Tim Healey
Production Co-ordinators
M. Michelle Nishikawa
New York:
Shirley Davis
Abaco Bahamas:
Ginny Warner
Edna Rozen Vaux
Production Manager
Adi Shoval
Unit Production Managers
Stephen Lim
Arthur Schaefer Jr
Site Manager
Sigura Meir
Supervising Location Managers
Bill Bowling
Janice Polley
Location Managers
New York:
Trish Adlesic
Gil Alon
Farkad Mahamid
Gail Stempler
Location Consultant
Abaco Bahamas:
Maria Chavez
Post-production Supervisor
Erica L. Hiller
Assistant Directors
Michael Waxman
Julie Herrin
Jody Spilkoman
Thomas B. Van Der Woude
New York:
Patrick J. Mangan
Itai Tamir
Daniel Oron
Script Supervisors
Julie Pitkanen
New York:
Eva Z. Cabrera
Revital Tzimering
Bonnie Timmermann
Alison E. McBryde
Yael Aviv
ADR Voice:
L.A. MadDogs
Scenario Co-ordinators
Susan Hollander
Barbara Smith
Camera Operators
Gary Jay
James Muro
Steadicam Operator
James Muro
Visual Effects Supervisor
Chris Watts
Digital Compositing
Travis Baumann
Matt Dessero
Fortunato Frattasio
Janet Yale
Plate Photography
Dream Quest Images
Jeffrey Burks
Erika Wangberg
Digital Matte Paintings
Matte World Digital
Craig Barron
Brett Northcutt
Special Effects
John Gray
Terry King
Snow Effects
Snow Business, Inc.
David Crownshaw
Video/Computer Graphics Supervisor
Liz Radley
Computer Graphics
Ted Haigh
Model Maker
Ron Mendell
Supervising Art Director
Marjorie McShirley
Art Directors
James E. Tocci
New York:
John Kasarda
Avi Avivi
Set Designers
Lynn Christopher
Kelly Hannafin
Darrell L. Wigh
Key Set Decorator
Nancy Haigh
Set Decorators
Los Angeles:
Chris Spellman
New York:
Beth Kushnick
Miguel Merkin
Sharon Shevach
Shmulik Ben Shalom
Israel Scenic Artist
Ruti Reichenstein
Costume Designers
Anna Sheppard
Christopher Lawrence
Wardrobe Supervisors
New York:
Susan J. Wright
Cheryl Kilbourne-Kimpton
Department Head Make-up
John Caglione Jr
Make-up Artist
Bill Myer
Special Make-up Artist
Greg Cannom
Make-up Artist
Eti Ben Nun
Hair Designer
Vera Mitchell
Michael Moore
Judith A. Cory
Title Design
Research Studios
Neville Brody
Pacific Title/Mirage
Additional Music
Graeme Revell
Scott Smalley
Tim Simonec
Executive in Charge of Music for The Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group
Kathy Nelson
Supervising Music Editor
Curt Sobel
Music Editors
Bob Badami
Thomas Milano
Score Recordists
Robert Fernandez
John Kurlander
Dan Wallin
Music Consultant
Mike Morrison
"Tempest" by Lisa Gerrard, Madjid Khaladj, Pieter Bourke, performed by Lisa Gerrard, Pieter Bourke; "Uotaaref men elihabek" by J. Baird, F. Gari, performed by Casbah Orchestra; "Suffocate", "Night Stop", "Hot Shots" by/performed by Curt Sobel; "Litany" by/performed by Arvo Pärt; "Smokey Mountain Waltz" by/performed by Richard Gilks; "Iguazu" by/performed by Gustavo Santaolalla; "Armenia" by Blixa Bargeld, Alexander Hacke, J. Caffery, F.M. Strauss, Andrew Chudy, Mark Chung, performed by Einstürzende Neubauten; "Sacrifice" by/performed by Lisa Gerrard, Pieter Bourke; "Two or Three Things" by David Darling, Manfred Eicher, performed by David Darling; "Rites" by/performed by Jan Garbarek; "Safe from Harm (Perfecto Mix)" by Billy Cobham, Robert Del Naja, Grantley Marshall, Shara Nelson, Andrew Vowles, performed by Massive Attack
Production Sound Mixer
Lee Orloff
Robert Renga
Craig 'Pup' Heath
Re-recording Mixers
Andy Nelson
Doug Hemphill
Re-recording Engineer
Denis St. Amand
Supervising Sound Editors
Gregg Baxter
Gregory King
Digital Sound Editorial Engineers
Rob Nokes
Philip Harrelson
Dialogue Editors
Stephanie Flack
Mary Ruth Smith
Darren King
Sound Effects Editor
Yann Delpuech
David Lucarelli
Charlene Richards
Nick Korda
Linda Folk
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
Linda Lew
James Ashwill
Supervising Editor:
John Murray
Donald Sylvester
Dan Yale
Military Technical Adviser
Eitan Ivgy
Lowell Bergman
Marie Brenner
Marine Co-ordinator
Abaco Bahamas:
Ricou Browning
Al Pacino
Lowell Bergman
Russell Crowe
Jeffrey Wigand
Christopher Plummer
Mike Wallace
Diane Venora
Liane Wigand
Philip Baker Hall
Don Hewitt
Lindsay Crouse
Sharon Tiller
Debi Mazar
Debbie De Luca
Stephen Tobolowsky
Eric Kluster
Colm Feore
Richard Scruggs
Bruce McGill
Ron Motley
Gina Gershon
Helen Caperelli
Michael Gambon
Thomas Sandefur
Rip Torn
John Scanlon
Lynne Thigpen
Mrs Williams
Hallie Kate Eisenberg
Barbara Wigand
Michael Paul Chan
Norman the cameraman
Linda Hart
Mrs Wigand
Robert Harper
Mark Stern
Nestor Serrano
FBI Agent Robertson
Pete Hamill
NY Times reporter
Wings Hauser
tobacco lawyer
Clifford Curtis
Sheikh Fadlallah
Renee Olstead
Deborah Wigand
Michael Moore
Gary Sandy
Sandefur's lawyer
Willie C. Carpenter
John Harris
Paul Butler
Charlie Phillips
Jack Palladino
Megan Odabash
Sandra Sutherland
Roger Bart
Seelbach hotel manager
Alan Desatti
Hezbollah interpreter
Sayed Badreya
Hezbollah head gunman
Chris Ufland
Doug Oliver, FDA
Doug McGrath
private investigator
Bill Sage
intense young intern
Joseph Hindy
Baldo the editor
Dennis Garber
FBI agent 1
Tim Grimm
FBI agent 2
Paul Perri
geologist/FBI man
Wanda De jesus
geologist/FBI woman
Robert Brink
V.J. Foster
Bill Felling
James Harper
FBI agent 3
Eyal Podell
Lowell's son
Breckin Meyer
Sharon's son
David Roberson
John Telafarro
Gregg E. Muravchick
private security guard
William P. Bradford II
subpoena man
David Carr
local newscaster
Ann Reskin
Seelbach hotel desk clerk
Claire Slemmer
Edie Magnus
Steve Salge
Dan Rather
Derrick Jones
Mississippi reporter
Donald F. Burbrink II
B & W male security officer
Vyto Ruginis
junior lawyer
George R. Parsons
B & W uniformed security officer
Isodine Loury
Mississippi court stenographer
Charlene Bosarge
Mr Scrugg's assistant
Saemi Nakamura
Japanese waitress
Ronal G. Yokley
police detective
Bob Lazarus
stage manager
Robert Ragno Jr
photographer, New Media
Alvin L. Welch
Nathan Lewis Hill
production assistant
Paula Bisbikos
Mike Wallace's assistant
Christi Evans
CBS news producer
Knox Grantham White
Amy L. Caudill
a student
Buena Vista International (UK)
14,219 feet
157 minutes 59 seconds
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound/SDDS
In Colour
Prints by
Super 35 [2.35:1]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011