The line between opinion and truth on news outlets has been getting awfully blurry lately. As corporations dictate the commentaries and presumptions delivered by major media outlets, journalistic integrity seems like a thing of the past. It’s amidst this cloudy backdrop of subjective news sources that Touchstone releases the Blu-ray of Michael Mann’s critically-acclaimed 1999 drama The Insider – a film that examines the perils of allowing corporations to control the news. The film, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, resonates today more than ever as it pulls back the curtain on contemporary journalism and the sleaziness of the tobacco industry. More on Touchstone’s Blu-ray of The Insider after the jump.
The Insider tells the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), an ex-research and development scientist at the Brown & Williamson tobacco company. In the mid-1990s, Wigand, with the help of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), blew the whistle on big tobacco. Previously, the CEOs of the seven major tobacco companies testified before Congress that they were not aware of any addictive properties in nicotine. Of course, they were lying their rich, wrinkly faces off and Wigand knew it. When he’s fired from Brown & Williamson for protesting against certain chemicals they wanted to put in cigarettes (like ammonia), he signs a sketchy confidentiality agreement that is meant to prevent him from spilling any of their dirty little secrets.
But investigative journalist and 60 minutes producer Lowell Bergman wants Wigand to squawk on national television. Back then, 60 Minutes was highly revered and anchor MIke Wallace (Christopher Plummer) was basically a national treasure. That didn’t stop CBS corporate from refusing to air the Wigand segment in fear of a lawsuit from Brown & Williamson that could jeopardize CBS’ possible sale to another corporation. While Bergman is going toe-to-toe with the CBS bigwigs, Wigand’s life is rapidly crumbling.
He’s receiving death threats, people are sneaking around his yard at night, and his wife and kids are terrified. Brown & Williamson “extend” Wigand’s confidentiality agreement to the point where they can sue him if he so much as farts in their direction. His wife (Diane Verona) doesn’t understand why he just won’t quit, so she asks him to move out. He undergoes all this while a nasty smear campaign against him is being perpetrated in the newspapers and on television. Crowe delivers an absolute powerhouse performance as Wigand. He’s a flawed character with a short fuse and Crowe simply nails it. The physical and emotional deterioration Wigand goes through comes off as authentic and heart-breaking as it sounds.
The typically explosive Pacino manages to show restraint as Bergman. The moments when he does scream and bark are nicely held back for maximum effect. Christopher Plummer brings his usual air of sophistication and nuance to the role of Mike Wallace. Behind the camera, Mann brings his distinct, visceral visual style with cinematographer Dante Spinotti. The Insider is an expertly crafted, compelling tour de force that belongs in the upper echelons of Mann’s best work, alongside Thief and Heat.
Touchstone and Disney present The Insider in 1080p AVC 2.39:1 widescreen with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It looks fantastic. Seriously, like it was filmed yesterday. Everything looks clean, detailed, and crisp. The contrast looks cranked up, but that’s just Mann’s style. The audio presentation sounds overall great.
The only special features are a trailer and a brief production featurette from the time of filming that features Crowe, Pacino, and their real-life counterparts. It’s only about seven minutes long, but after watching the film it’s great to hear the actual dudes talk about it.
Although the disc lacks in bonus content, the visual and audio presentation makes the upgrade to Blu-ray a must. Definitely check this one out.