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The Insider

Year: 1999
Production Co: Blue Lion Entertainment
Director: Michael Mann
Producer: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann
Cast: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, Philip Baker Hall, Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Stephen Toblowsky, Colm Feore, Gina Gershon, Michael Gambon, Rip Torn
One of the best and most important movies of the 1990s, peeling back the Hollywood gloss like all the best movie do and showing us the machinations of how the world really turns happens, the modern equivalent of peeking behind the curtain in the chamber of the Wizard of Oz.

Russell Crowe is the dumpy chemist Jeffrey Wigand, a former inside figure in the Big Tobacco complex, and when loses his job and comes to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) with explosive proof of manipulation of both markets and chemistry by the tobacco companies, it looms into the biggest story in decades.

It was one of the first in a long line of films with a similar m.o. – taking us inside a world where people talk and forces move the way they really do in that world, here the tentacle-like reach of those interests and forces form a network we can hardly comprehend or keep up with, and where the pace of watching people do what they know when we don't is breakneck and threatens to leave us behind but for the thrilling glimpse at the truth we instinctively feel they're according us.

More recent examples are Primer and Syriana, and like them, Mann steps back like a documentarian, not censoring the way things are or slowing them down so we can keep track of every spike and nuance. It's the polar opposite of family comedies spoon-feeding every obtuse detail to us so we don't have to think, and I love it.

The overarching theme is that money sets and maintains the status quo, and trying to change it is likely to get you fired, defamed or worse. As the tobacco companies are coming after Wigand to ruin his life and financially bleed him to death, so the corporate forces of the media conglomerates swirl above Bergman's head, threatening to derail his own quest to expose the truth the only way he knows how.

Mann weaves what in real life is a quite passionless and undramatic string of events throughout moments of high drama deftly – like when Bergman ends up knee deep in the sea to retain his mobile signal to Wigand.

And he couldn't have picked two better actors to tell his story. Pacino often hams it up for the camera – and deserves to after his stellar career – but this is tailor made territory for him, a brutal mix of smarts and emotion.

Crowe reaches just beyond his abilities and you can see cracks in his too-eager performance as he tries a little too hard to act rather than be, but that's less a criticism than an acknowledgement that he isn't willing to rest of the laurels of his macho appeal. He isn't afraid to transform himself for a role.

Bruce McGill's dressing down of a prosecutor during Wigand's deposition is a stand-out of a thrilling and engaging movie that should be seen by everyone.

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