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The Insider Reviews

An exciting dramatization of the strange events that marked the turning of the legal tide against Big Tobacco, and a particularly dark moment in the annals of CBS News. In 1992, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) was making $300,000 a year as a head researcher at Brown & Williamson, the third-largest tobacco company in the country. A year later, he was living out of a hotel under an assumed name and generally fearing for his life. What happened? Fired not long after he began raising uncomfortable questions about how much B&W execs did in fact know about nicotine addiction and carcinogenic additives, Wigand went to 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) who urged the scientist to be interviewed by Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer). Wigand then further violated his confidentiality agreement with B&W by giving a deposition as part of Mississippi State Attorney General Michael Moore's attempt to sue major tobacco companies for billions of dollars in Medicaid payments. The fall-out — restraining orders, a nasty personal smear campaign, even death threats — nearly destroyed Wigand's life. But the cruel irony of it all was that CBS, nervous about any potential lawsuits that might interfere with the network's impending sale to Westinghouse, pressured 60 Minutes into pulling the segment. As a piece of corporate muckraking, director Michael Mann's film is about as factually accurate as it needs to be; as entertainment, it's gripping stuff. Mann's expressionistic style gets an additional jolt of breaking-news excitement from Dante Spinotti's hand-held cinematography, and what could have been dull, expository scenes are dynamically staged (whatever did directors do before cell phones?) and suffused with a sense of creeping paranoia. Crowe's white-knuckled performance raises interesting questions about Wigand himself before he's dropped in favor of Bergman's much less problematic heroics, and Pacino is brimming with righteous brio. But Bergman's Capra-esque heroism is qualified by a version of events that's surprisingly soft on CBS News: Charges that 60 Minutes might have exploited Wigand are stifled in a blast of rhetoric the moment they're raised, Wallace is generously given an opportunity to explain himself and the whole fiasco is conveniently blamed on greedy corporate counsel.