BLU REVIEW: The Insider

THE SET-UP
A tobacco executive (Russell Crowe) has his life turned upside down when he exposes the dirty secrets of cigarette companies to a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino) and Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer). Based on true events.
Directed by Michael Mann 

THE DELIVERY
Michael Mann’s account of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand’s efforts to expose big tobacco earned seven Oscar nominations in 1999, including Best Picture, but didn’t win a single one. American Beauty may have been the big winner that year, but The Insider deserves much more credit than it received.

It has been a number of years since I sat down and watched my DVD of The Insider, but after five minutes of popping in the Blu-ray, I remembered why I bought the movie in the first place. This is an outstanding film that hasn’t lost a beat after over a decade.

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Based on true events, Mann crafts an incredibly tense thriller, casting Crowe’s Wigand as a flawed everyman forced into a remarkable situation. Crowe gives the character an honest portrayal, giving perhaps the best performance of his career in a layered, difficult role. In fact, just about every character in the film is portrayed as human with faults of their own; Mann isn’t afraid to even throw Mike Wallace under the bus for selling out (Christopher Plummer gives a fantastic performance, by the way).

Al Pacino, as 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, is electric as a journalist who refuses to give up or give in. Even when Wigand and Wallace falter, it is Bergman who stands his ground in pursuit of the truth. I don’t know what it is about Mann that brings out the best in Pacino (The Insider followed his role in Heat), but he should work with him much more often.

Some elements may have been played up for dramatic effect, including the threats against the Wigand family. While some threats did happen, the movie does say those behind it were never identified. The conspiracy elements may have been played up, but that is hardly the most riveting part of the film. 

Mann manages to make The Insider a compelling story by pitting Wigand and Bergman against a faceless, powerful enemy that destroys Wigand’s life and his paranoia increases. Watching seasoned actors like Pacino, Crowe, and Plummer argue and debate whether the truth is worth the struggle elevates what should have been your average legal drama into a classic docu-drama. The Insider will affirm your faith in doing the right thing, while also providing a sobering example of what standing up for what you believe can cost you. 

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VIDEO AND AUDIO
Michael Mann is well known for his stylized filmmaking, including the use of dramatic lighting and unfiltered lenses. Here, it appears Mann often uses a washed-out effect, and some film grain is visible, giving the film a gritty, realistic look. The video transfer is good, but the excessive film grain does not allow for the kind of sharpness you would hope for on Blu-ray. Since this was a deliberate style choice by Mann, it really shouldn’t be a minus in the video department, but anyone used to the razor sharpness of high-definition will notice a difference here.

The audio is excellent, with a 5.1 DTS-HS Master Audio track that has a nice surround effect, even for a dialogue-heavy film. There is effective separation in the channels, with good clarity.

SPECIAL FEATURES
For such a great movie, extras are pretty scant. Besides the obligatory trailer, you get a production featurette that lasts about seven minutes. It includes short interviews with the real Lowell Bergman and Jeffrey Wigand, as well as Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Michael Mann. There are some nice insights into the film as well as behind-the-scenes shots, but it is far too short.

Strangely, the Blu-ray case for the film mentions the production featurette, but says it includes audio commentary by Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Pacino and Crowe do appear in the featurette, but do not provide an audio commentary as a separate audio track. The case also lists an “Inside the Scene” bonus feature, which is not included on the disc.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Movie: 9
Video: 8
Audio: 8
Extras: 3
Overall Grade: 7

The Insider is an outstanding film, but this release is undermined by a lack of decent extras. This is a movie that begs for additional content to give the viewer more insight into the real story that inspired it. Even so, since it is priced to sell at under $20, it is still worth picking up, especially if you aren’t into extras. It’s that good. 

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Rating: R (language)
Running time: 157 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital 
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish (film only)
Special Features: Production featurette, theatrical trailer

Click here to order The Insider on Blu-ray from Amazon!