While in 1990 the return of film noir was touted in such films as THE HOT SPOT, THE GRIFTERS, and AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, this unheralded offering from executive producer-writer-director Bobby Roth (THE HEARTBREAKERS) came closer than most to recreating the eerie menace of genre classics
such as DETOUR and THE BIG HEAT, charged with the rawness of a Sam Fuller (SHOCK CORRIDOR) in its free-swinging, muckraking vitality.
It seems fitting that THE MAN INSIDE is set in Germany, where film noir was born. The film tells the story of lone-wolf investigative journalist Gunter Wallraff (Jurgen Prochnow), who infiltrates West Germany's leading right-wing newspaper--a politicized National Enquirer with the circulation
clout of a USA Today--to write an expose about how the paper manufactures news to serve propagandistic ends. Wallraff, whose book Lead Story served as the film's basis and who is credited as a consultant, is shown exposing a 1975 military coup in Portugal as the film begins. Along the way, he
uncovers a connection between extremist right-wing political forces in Portugal and West Germany. When the German newspaper, The Standard (the thinly disguised real-life Bild Zeitung), runs a hysterical, distorted "expose" on Wallraff, the journalist suspects a further link between the paper and
the government and decides to go undercover to test his theory.
Using a dissident ex-staffer as his introduction, Wallraff obtains an interview with managing editor Leonard Schroeter (Dieter Laser). Having changed his identity and appearance, and fabricated a model background for a Standard reporter, Wallraff manages to get hired immediately, even as the paper
and the country's security police are searching for him on charges related to his Portugal expose. Wallraff is befriended by star reporter Henry Tobel (Peter Coyote), who gives Wallraff a crash course on the paper's style of "journalism." On its surface, their first assignment is a fairly bland
human interest story about a company president and a truck driver who switch places for a day. From that, Tobel emerges with the paper's trademark mixture of propaganda and titillation (the driver is photographed with the president's pretty secretary sitting on his lap), calculated to assure
working-class readers that the life of the wealthy capitalist is not to be envied. Trying his own hand, Wallraff profiles an attractive female martial arts expert, another harmless story that is transformed into a frothing anti-feminist diatribe in rewrite. As a result of the story, Wallraff
quickly rises at The Standard, as the subject's life is turned into a living hell of sexual harassment. By comparison to other Standard subjects, she gets off easy as the paper's stories often lead to murder and/or suicide. Clearly, this is not a nice place to work, yet Wallraff thrives on the
pressure of being so close to those who are after him, and revels somewhat in being the paper's new star reporter. After years of low-paying assignments with alternative papers, Wallraff can't help but be thrilled with his words now reaching more than 11 million readers. For a while it appears
that he may follow in the footsteps of the self-loathing Tobel, but shocking events soon intervene.
The very existence of this film, along with Wallraff's participation in its production, testifies to the success of the reporter's expose, in turn dictating a nominally "happy" ending. However, that success only comes after extended court battles waged by the newspaper in an effort to suppress
Wallraff's book. The film details the toll the whole affair took on Wallraff's life, covering a broken marriage, the harassment of his ex-wife and children, and a disintegrating relationship with his partner (Nathalie Baye). By turns queasy, disturbing, and terrifying, THE MAN INSIDE benefits from
Roth's straightforward writing and direction and the rich, vivid work of the cast. Giving a low-key performance, Prochnow becomes the film's moral compass, around which revolve such enjoyably out-sized performances as that by Coyote (star of Roth's HEARTBREAKERS and BAJA OKLAHOMA), as the worm who
turns late in the film. Laser, meanwhile, almost steals the film as the surrealistically hard-driving editor. Overall, Roth's brutally direct style is well-suited to the sordid subject matter and THE MAN INSIDE is just as nasty as it should be. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: PG
- Review: While in 1990 the return of film noir was touted in such films as THE HOT SPOT, THE GRIFTERS, and AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, this unheralded offering from executive producer-writer-director Bobby Roth (THE HEARTBREAKERS) came closer than most to recreating the… (more)