Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1999 - The Insider

Things I have learned about New York City in December:
  • It is cold.
  • Freshly fallen snow is soft, fluffy powder, perfect for making snow angels. Two days later, it is wet, brown sludge, perfect for making your socks damp.
  • It is very cold.
  • When walking down the stairs at the subway station after a recent snowy downfall, it is necessary to hold on to the railing with both hands in order to avoid the inadvertent use of your bottom as a toboggan.
  • It is freaking cold.
  • Visiting Macy's in Manhattan at six o'clock on the evening of December 23rd is akin to inviting 700 people into your living room.
  • It is very freaking cold.
On the other hand, there is beauty, too. From the vantage point of our high-rise apartment, we can see snow, still pristine and sludge-free, atop the roofs of nearby buildings.

Today, I began the review of a year that is perhaps my favourite year of film amongst the last few decades: 1999. The first Best Picture nominee to be considered was...

The Insider
Michael Mann
Eric Roth & Michael Mann
(based on the Vanity Fair article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner)
Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Debi Mazar
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

A story of corporate intrigue and journalistic integrity, The Insider is based on the real events surrounding tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe). After being fired by his employer, Wigand is recruited by 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) to decipher some tobacco related documents. However, Bergman's keen sense for a story notices that Wigand has a lot more that he desperately wants to reveal if only he weren't stifled by the confidentiality agreement he has with his previous employer. Once Bergman convinces Wigand to spill the beans and, therefore, put his family at risk, Bergman must then fight lawyers, corporate bigwigs and even his own network to ensure Wigand isn't left out to dry.

The Insider is a wonderfully gripping film with suspense that never lets up. The story is constantly moving forward, each step filled with its own frustrating obstacles. At the heart of the story are two men, both painted with high morals and integrity. Wigand sacrifices almost everything to let the world know about the evils of the tobacco companies. Bergman is unrelenting in his attempt to maintain truth in journalism. Undoubtedly, there are many dramatisations in the picture, so one wonders how flawlessly moralistic these men actually were, but it certainly makes for great entertainment. On the other hand, one of the downfalls of Wigand being portrayed with such righteousness is that his wife comes across as a tad unreasonable and unsupportive.

Russell Crowe (pictured) received a great deal of acclaim for his performance as Wigand and perhaps rightly so. After all, he gained weight for the role and made himself less attractive and Oscar loves actors who do that. Nonetheless, Al Pacino, as always, is so undeniably watchable that I've never understood how Crowe took all the press away from him. Yes, it was Crowe's breakout role, and one year later, he'd become a mega-star and win an Oscar thanks to Gladiator, but, to me, he is simply not in the same class as the great Al.

Michael Mann's direction accomplishes a brilliant tone for the film, not to mention the amazing cast he assembled. Christopher Plummer is fitting as 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace and Philip Baker Hall makes yet another impressive turn as the CBS News executive Don Hewitt. There is also a long list of talented names filling out smaller roles, all delivering great performances, namely Michael Gambon, Debi Mazar, Gina Gershon, Colm Feore and Stephen Tobolowsky.

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