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The Insider Blu-ray Review

The Insider (1999) movie poster The Insider

Theatrical Release: November 5, 1999 / Running Time: 158 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Mann / Writers: Eric Roth, Michael Mann (screenplay); Marie Brenner (Vanity Fair article "The Man Who Knew Too Much")

Cast: Al Pacino (Lowell Bergman), Russell Crowe (Jeffrey Wigand), Christopher Plummer (Mike Wallace), Diane Venora (Liane Wigand), Philip Baker Hall (Don Hewitt), Lindsay Crouse (Sharon Tiller), Debi Mazar (Debbie De Luca), Stephen Tobolowsky (Eric Kluster), Colm Feore (Richard Scruggs), Bruce McGill (Ron Motley), Gina Gershon (Helen Caperelli), Michael Gambon (Thomas Sandefur), Rip Torn (John Scanlon), Lynne Thigpen (Mrs. Williams), Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Barbara Wigand), Michael Paul Chan (Norman the Cameraman), Linda Hart (Mrs. Wigand), Robert Harper (Mark Stern), Nestor Serrano (FBI Agent Robertson), Pete Hamill (NY Times Reporter), Wings Hauser (Tobacco Lawyer), Cliff Curtis (Sheikh Fadlallah), Tim Grimm (FBI Agent #2), Renee Olstead (Deborah Wigand), Michael Moore (Michael Moore)

Buy The Insider from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD 2-Movie DVD with A Civil Action VHS

Since becoming little more than a DBA for DreamWorks Pictures and therefore home to Steven Spielberg's prestige dramas, Touchstone Pictures has drawn three Best Picture Oscar nominations. That tally from just two years of partnership has already exceeded
what Touchstone had earned in the more than a quarter-century prior that it spent purely as a label through which Disney released some of its more mature films. In those twenty-seven years, only two Touchstone dramas cracked the field for the industry's highest honor: Dead Poets Society and The Insider.

The Insider did so in 1999, which is considered a banner year for film. It beat out such revered fare as Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, Magnolia, The Matrix, and Toy Story 2 to claim one of the long-standard five Best Picture slots. Not that the nomination could be considered a coup over quirky, polarizing, sci-fi, and animated films; The Insider clearly fit a traditional awards mold with its gripping, historic true story. The biggest surprise among that year's crop was probably The Sixth Sense, from Disney's Hollywood Pictures label, a mainstream horror film that had connected with the public in a huge way (and is still regarded by many, most notably the American Film Institute, as the best that '99 had to offer).

The Insider tells the story of "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) and tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe). Their collaboration is no routine segment for the long-running, highly-rated weekly CBS news magazine program, but rather one that would send shockwaves through the multi-billion dollar tobacco business and hold significant implications for freedom of the press and the influence of money on the legal system, not to mention Wigand's family and life.

Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) weighs his decision to become a whistleblower in the face of mounting pressure. "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) is there for Wigand when he needs it.

Stout, middle-aged, white-haired Wigand has just been fired from his research position at Brown & Williamson, the third biggest manufacturer of tobacco in the United States. Bergman consults Wigand to help him make sense of a box of documents about Philip Morris he has anonymously received. Wigand reluctantly sheds what light he can, but clearly there is more he wants to say. He cannot, however, for it would violate the terms of his confidentiality agreement and invalidate the generous severance package that he and his Kentucky family will need, especially the health insurance required of his daughter's acute asthma.

Bergman is an expert at making sources comfortable; while he gets Wigand to open up some, the crack "60 Minutes" legal term is figuring out how Wigand can go on the record with his incriminating information without breaking the law. They arrange for Wigand to be deposed in the State of Mississippi's case against the tobacco industry, believing that with his testimony in public record, an interview can proceed. Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) conducts the interview and Bergman edits it, but before it airs, CBS' lawyers express reservations and ask for an edit of the episode without the interview that could potentially open them up to a multi-billion dollar tortious interference lawsuit.

While the episode's future remains up in the air, Wigand, who has taken a job as a high school chemistry teacher, receives death threats, is subject to a smear campaign dredging up the skeletons in his closet, and has his wife (Diane Venora) leave him. Bergman's unwavering belief in the interview and firm moral footing hold little weight at CBS, where the episode airs without the interview, leaving Wigand to wonder what his life has been turned upside-down for.

Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) schools one of CBS' high-powered lawyers (Gina Gershon) on manners. Liane Wigand (Diane Venora) isn't happy with what Jeffrey's actions do to his family.

The Insider is directed by Michael Mann at the top of his game. An executive producer on "Miami Vice", Mann had risen the ranks of the film business and come to be respected for works like The Last of the Mohicans and Heat. The Insider resembles the latter's heavy style and epic design, with East Coast whistleblowers and TV journalists replacing Los Angeles cops and robbers.
Mann's bold vision is as much about creating and sustaining a mood as it is about telling a story. He opts for eerie, unconventional color schemes on certain night scenes and attaches otherworldly score you'd more expect to find on a movie like 300 or Crowe's subsequent effort, Gladiator.

Some will argue that Mann overreaches, taking a perfectly gripping story and elevating it to a self-important epic full of flair and flares. But Mann, who co-wrote the screenplay with Forrest Gump, Benjamin Button scribe Eric Roth, serves the material well, giving us the talkative, cutthroat business dealings expected and a little bit more gusto here and there. The dialogue is rich, rhythmic, and always perfectly delivered by an outstanding cast.

Interestingly, the only actor recognized with an Oscar nomination (one of the seven that the film drew but failed to win) is Russell Crowe, who in some ways is the weak link. Back in 1999, Crowe was relatively unknown beyond the notice he had garnered in the acclaimed L.A. Confidential. Seeing The Insider now and knowing Crowe from numerous other high-profile projects (including back-to-back Best Picture winners), it's impossible to miss the loud and showy nature of his performance, as the 34-year-old Australian stretches himself to play a graceless American schlub. Crowe's characterization is very specific down to mannerisms, as if Jeffrey Wigand is someone we're all very familiar with.

The more seasoned vets around Crowe, who despite his second billing fittingly competed in the Lead Actor category, are less determined to prove themselves. As the principled producer, Pacino is likable and early on quite calm. That doesn't last; the explosions and profanity for which he has been known for the past thirty years emerge. Not that we see much of the understatement Pacino brought to his 1970s dramas, but before long, the eminently quotable outbursts of films like Heat, Scent of a Woman, and The Devil's Advocate are clearly channeled.

Perhaps the greatest standout among a cast of reliable, seasoned character actors is Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. Portraying the only truly familiar person here, Plummer transforms himself in striking ways. His supporting actor Oscar win last year for Beginners undoubtedly took into account years of fine work like this.

As one of Touchstone's most respected films, The Insider was overdue for Blu-ray release. It gets that Tuesday in a disc with no huge surprises.

Watch a clip from The Insider:

The Insider Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.39:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Portuguese), Dolby 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD ($14.99 SRP; April 11, 2000) and in 2-Movie Collection DVD with A Civil Action ($14.99 SRP; February 10, 2008)
Previously released as Widescreen VHS (November 7, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Insider couldn't have asked for a better Blu-ray presentation. The 2.40:1 transfer remains sharp and clean throughout, boasting the distinct color timing and shaky cam verite look that Michael Mann gave it. Disney's catalog BDs have been spotty, but you're correct in thinking that this film is too recent to mess up. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio also delights, having the impact and ambience intended, while staying crisp and immediate.

Hoo-ah! A goateed Al Pacino discusses reuniting with Michael Mann in the production featurette. Given a televised look, film stills remain static on the Blu-ray's menu screen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Insider's Blu-ray includes two of the film's three DVD bonus features, both still appearing in standard definition and both somehow still misstated in the packaging.

An untitled production featurette (7:05) is the EPK piece it sounds like, not the Al Pacino and Russell Crowe audio commentary the case somehow describes.

At least, it includes remarks from the real Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman (but not Mike Wallace, who wasn't pleased with his portrayal) in addition to behind-the-scenes looks and comments from Crowe, Pacino, Mann, and Plummer.

Second and unmentioned on the case is the film's theatrical trailer (2:33), which uses tight editing and gimmicky effects to really punch up the drama.

Mentioned on the case but missing from the disc is "Inside a Scene", a feature that apparently took you through the different phases of a single scene. If anything, Blu-ray should be gaining extras, not losing them.

The disc opens with promos for ABC's upcoming drama series "Red Widow" and Who Framed Roger Rabbit's 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, followed by an anti-smoking spot that feels both silly and appropriate here. The first two play from the menu's Sneak Peeks listing, followed by an ad for "Revenge."

The static menu attaches a score excerpt to an interesting collage of stills given a television screen filter. The disc neither resumes playback, nor supports bookmarks, a pretty glaring (but typical for Disney) shortcoming for a film of this length. No inserts, reverse side artwork, or notable disc art are found within the side-snapped blue keepcase.

Russell Crowe IS The Insider.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Insider is closer to three hours than two, but that time just flies in Michael Mann's gripping presentation, a model of excellence for all talkative corporate dramas to aspire to. It is a film worth seeing and occasionally revisiting.

Disney's Blu-ray is a good a way as any to do either. It is, like most Disney catalog BDs, a straightforward platter offering an audio/video upgrade and the same old bonus features (inexplicably losing one of them). A film of this stature ought to have more extras (like the complete real "60 Minutes" segment, for starters), but this release makes that unlikely to happen and I wouldn't hold my breath for a licensing to Criterion. Still, the movie's picture and sound quality are impeccable, and that coupled with the strength of the film is enough to recommend giving this disc a look-see.

Buy The Insider from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / 2-Movie DVD with A Civil Action / VHS

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Films of 1999: Being John Malkovich The Straight Story Following Galaxy Quest Toy Story 2 eXistenZ
Al Pacino: The Godfather Trilogy Scarface Dick Tracy Jack and Jill | Russell Crowe: Body of Lies
Christopher Plummer: The Sound of Music The Last Station Up Priest National Treasure
Written by Eric Roth: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Forrest Gump
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The Verdict Traffic The Ides of March The Thin Red Line The Rainmaker The Color of Money

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Reviewed February 15, 2013.



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