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The Insider (1999)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/19/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/26/2013
I've written in the past about the many great advantages of home video, one of which is the option of watching a favorite movie anytime which we want to. There's nothing better than popping in a beloved comedy and reliving the laughs. But, home video can also remind us of important films of the past. Many movies, especially docudramas, have tackled tough issues and we can easily forget just how eye-opening some of these films were. The Insider, which has just made its debut on Blu-ray Disc is such a film, as it depicts a very important turning point in the world of big business and healthcare in the United States.
As The Insider opens, it introduces us to two men. Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) is a producer for 60 Minutes. He is a seemingly fearless man who will go to great lengths to get a story and get the truth. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) lives in Louisville, Kentucky and he's just been fired from his job at a big tobacco company. He informs his wife, Liane (Diane Venora), of this, and they aren't sure how they are going to maintain their present lifestyle. Bergman gets a number of documents from an anonymous source which have to do with cigarettes and fires. He asks around for someone to translate the data for him, and Wigand is suggested. The two meet, as Wigand is interested in getting paid for the job, but it soon becomes clear to Bergman that Wigand has a larger story to tell. However, due to an agreement in his severance package, Wigand can't divulge any corporate secrets. Bergman is convinced that this would be a perfect piece for Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) and he sets out to find a loophole which will allow them to get Wigand on-camera. Other forces are at work here, and Wigand is threatened legally and physically to keep his mouth shut.
The Insider comes from Director Michael Mann, who is known for his gritty and realistic thrillers (and one heck of an historical-drama with The Last of the Mohicans.) Mann had tackled crime at many points in his career, in movies like Manhunter and Heat, and of course, his landmark TV series, Miami Vice, but The Insider presents a crime of a different nature. Mann went back to his documentary roots with this film, as he tackled a story based on real people and real events. (He would do the same with his next film, Ali.) Known as a perfectionist, Mann went to great lengths to give The Insider an authentic feel, even shooting in some of the actual locations where the real events took place.
While Mann's efforts are greatly appreciated, it's the drama and the acting which are front and center here. At it's core, The Insider has a fairly simple story which isn't all that different from other films we've seen in the past which involved a reporter trying to get to the bottom of a story. What makes this one different is that it's a true story and its implications are far-reaching. Wigand had information which proved that tobacco companies made sure that cigarettes were as addictive as possible. This aided in lawsuits which had been filed against tobacco companies to recoup money for medical costs. This is huge news and to get it on 60 Minutes was a real coup for Bergman and Wallace. Of course, nothing of that scale is ever easy, and we watch as Bergman and Wigand fight the system and one another as they attempt to get Wigand's story out to the public. While it's not as suspenseful as something likeArgo or Apollo 13, there are still moments where we wonder if they will be able to succeed.
And, given the cast, you know that we are going to see some great acting here. I hadn't seen The Insider in years, but I was quickly reminded that this is my favorite performance by Russell Crowe (and one for which he received an Oscar nod) because he plays it so subdued and quietly. This is contrasted by the loud and brush Pacino. But, when these two go toe-to-toe, the movie really comes alive. The best performance here, however, is given by Plummer, who portrays Mike Wallace as a confident, even headstrong man who doesn't like being told no. During some of his outbursts, I wished for a "Pop-up Video"-like sign to let us know if what we are seeing really happened in real life.
Michael Mann isn't known for making short movies and the only real problem with The Insider is that it drags in the last reel. This part of the film focuses almost exclusively on Bergman and Crowe's performance is sorely missed. Given that, The Insider is still a powerhouse drama which offers an important story and fantastic acting.
The Insider made me wonder why Liane couldn't get a job on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. Given Mann's style, that grain was most likely on purpose. This is a relatively dark movie, but the image is never overly dark. There are few bright colors here, but the colors do look accurate. The level of detail is good and the depth is adequate. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at an average of 4.5 Mbps. It's instantly noticeable that the level on this track is off. I had to turn my volume up much higher than normal just to be able to hear the dialogue and I then had to turn on the subtitles to ensure that I was hearing everything accurately. Given the relatively high bitrate, I was surprised by how muffled the dialogue sounds... and Crowe's mumbling doesn't help! Outside of this, the stereo and surround sound effects, most of which come from crowd noises or street scenes sound OK, but the low dialogue can't be ignored.
The Insider Blu-ray Disc is short on extra features. "Production Featurette" (7 minutes) offers comments from Mann, Pacino, Crowe, Plummer, the real Jeffrey Wigand, and the real Lowell Bergman. However, these comments are all very brief, and the majority of the piece is comprised of clips from the movie. We do get some on-set footage, but the only truly interesting piece involves Mann's insistence on shooting in the actual locations where the real-life story occurred. The only other extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.