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Movie Review

Based on a true story, The Insider chronicles the personal and professional trials of Jeffrey Wigand, a top scientist and tobacco industry insider possessing knowledge that, if made public, would devastate "big tobacco." He’s a family man with a wife and two young girls. He’s also unemployed thanks to a sudden and unceremonious dismissal by cigarette maker Brown & Williamson. That’s when he meets Lowell Bergman. Chasing information for an unrelated story, the 60 Minutes producer contacts Wigand for his technical expertise. The more Bergman chats with Wigand, the more he senses the doctor carefully sidestepping an even bigger story. Will Wigand speak up and violate the confidentiality agreement he signed with Brown & Williamson? How far will that corporate empire go to protect its interests?

Wigand, already suffocating beneath the weight of his awesome secret, is pushed to the limit when his former employer questions his integrity and threatens his family. Bitterness, anger and a concern for the public welfare lead Wigand to tell his story in court and as a taped television interview, both exposing the tobacco industry’s deliberate manipulation of nicotine. Wigand risks his family, his reputation, lawsuits and possible jail time to release this information. But before the segment can air on 60 Minutes, CBS gets cold feet. The insider is hung out to dry. Fortunately, Bergman refuses to accept defeat. He works the system in a desperate attempt to get the truth out, fighting as much for journalistic freedom as for public safety and his new friend.

Positive Elements: Wigand and Bergman both take pride in being men of their word who honor agreements and refuse to betray confidences. Referring to violated trust, a resigning Bergman says, "What got broken here doesn’t go back together again." When Wigand’s daughter suffers a severe asthma attack, he efficiently and lovingly administers first aid while calmly explaining the situation to her. Circumstances force the family to move to a smaller home in a less exclusive neighborhood, which Jeffrey and Liane decide is a good thing, implying that a simpler, cozier existence is preferable to empty stuff and status. A brief exchange between Wigand and Bergman about their fathers proves that dads need to be heroes to their sons (Wigand enjoys fond memories and a deep respect for his father while Bergman’s dad ran off when he was five, leaving him bitter). When tobacco industry spin doctors dig up dirt to discredit Wigand, it proves that sins of the past and errors in judgment can come back to haunt us.

The entire film acts as an anti-smoking public service announcement. Evidence points out the dangers of cigarettes and the hypocrisy of industry leaders (Wigand’s testimony in nationwide lawsuits actually led "big tobacco" to pay states a settlement of $246 billion). Wigand puts everything on the line to do what he believes is right, though some viewers may feel the personal price paid is too high. By comparison, 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace, selfishly preoccupied with his own legacy, is vilified for siding with network beancounters over whether or not to air the Wigand interview.

Spiritual Content: In an interview with American press, an Islamic leader suspected of terrorism tells Mike Wallace he is "a servant of God."

Sexual Content: None.

Violent Content: Mostly just threats and posturing. Someone leaves a bullet in Wigand’s mailbox. When he suspects a trespasser may be closing in on his family, Wigand pulls one of several guns from his safe and explores the backyard.

Crude or Profane Language: This will be the disqualifying factor in most homes. The language is extremely harsh with 35 f-words and more than a dozen other profanities. There are also slang expressions for sex and a woman’s breasts.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Wigand admits that he drinks more than he should and, on several occasions, turns to alcohol in moments of stress. He even has a fully stocked bar in his home with everything set out waiting for him to arrive from work.

Other Negative Elements: Liane Wigand divorces her husband and takes the kids with her, unwilling to endure the stress and potential danger resulting from her husband’s crusade. Having apparently given up on the idea that conventional marriage is an attainable norm, Bergman suggests that stepchildren from previous unions help define a "modern marriage."

Summary: The Insider is a methodical drama about moral imperatives. No car chases. No sleazy sex scenes. It follows flawed, yet principled people as they strive to do what they believe is right, regardless of the consequences. Outstanding performances by Crowe and Pacino—ranging from explosive passion to brooding introspection—support the rest of this riveting "man against the system" story. In fact, the duo battle two greedy behemoths. The first is a multibillion-dollar tobacco industry. The second is CBS, a multibillion-dollar media conglomerate more concerned about a pending merger than in airing the most important public-health story in recent history. Unfortunately, those worthwhile character studies and history lessons are shrouded in obscenities that linger like a cloud of second-hand smoke. It’s toxic and it stinks. Stay out of the theater. Resist the temptation to rent this movie on home video. Rather, wait for The Insider to air on prime-time television and pray the networks filter out the inappropriate language.

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Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman; Russell Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand; Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace; Diane Venora as Liane Wigand; with Rip Torn, Gina Gershon, Debi Mazar, Philip Baker Hall, Lindsay Crouse, Colm Feore, Bruce McGill, Stephen Tobolowsky and others


Michael Mann ( )


Touchstone Pictures



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Bob Smithouser

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