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November 12, 1999

The Insider A Treat For the Patient

I'm an impatient person. I admit it freely. Traffic never moves fast enough for me. Computers never work as quickly as desired. Standing in line is torture. Which is why I'm surprised I enjoyed "The Insider" as much as I did. "The Insider" is a glacially paced drama, lasting as long as an Ice. It moves slower that "Eyes Wide Shut", but with less sex. Part of critics' acclaim for this movie probably derives from their joy and surprise of getting out of it before the turn of the millennium.

But hidden in this "War and Peace" length film is a surprisingly good movie, for those willing to take the time to watch. But be warned, "The Insider" is the ultimate anti-blockbuster. No shots are fired, nothing explodes, there are no car chases, and no ocean-liners sink. Instead, the film is a powerful character drama about the clash between ideals and the "real" world.

"The Insider" is the true story of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, an ex-head of research for Brown and Williamson, the third largest tobacco company in the United States. Wigand was fired for objecting to B&W's continued use of a known carcinogen despite existing alternatives. B&W refused to change chemicals because of the effect on cigarette taste and a decrease in sales. Wigand is then approached by Lowell Bergman, a producer for 60 Minutes, about appearing in an expose against the tobacco industry. However, this is easier said than done. Upon leaving B&W, Wigand was forced into signing a confidentiality agreement, giving him financial benefits and, most importantly, medical coverage for his family, as Wigand's daughter has severe asthma.

In order to get around the confidentiality agreement, Bergman has Wigand participate in a lawsuit being brought by the state of Mississippi against the tobacco industry; the reasoning is that a deposition under oath will make the information public record and let Wigand sidestep his confidentiality pact. The film follows Wigand and Bergman during their ordeal to get the expose made and aired for 60 Minutes. They face opposition from everyone from the tobacco company to CBS, which is worried about a lawsuit being brought against them if they air the piece.

The acting is uniformly superb. Russell Crowe shines as Wigand, an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. He shows Wigand to be an honorable person, concerned with doing what is "right", while fearing the consequences his actions will have on his family. Christopher Plummer also excels in his portrayal of Mike Wallace, a man driven by thoughts of his "legacy", concerned with how he'll be remembered by the American public. But the real star of "The Insider" is Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman. Al Pacino is an extraordinarily talented actor, and it is nice to see him taking roles that challenge him rather than being typecast.

Anyone who saw Michael Mann's 1995 "Heat" knows what to expect from this director. "Heat" was a sprawling three hour character study of cops and robbers, ambitious in scope and, for the most part very satisfying. However, it was almost entirely dialogue driven with only one spectacular gunfight in downtown L.A. "The Insider" is more of the same, without the gunfight. It is a welcome change for those looking for a satisfying epic drama, well scripted, well directed, and well acted. If it is gunfights, car chases, or explosions that you are looking for, there are plenty of other movies for you. Those willing to brave the glacial pace of this film are in for a pleasant surprise.

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