Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’ unflinchingly stands as significant as ever

Rarely have we seen such an important film as Michael Mann’s The Insider. The story of Jeffrey Wigand, a whistle-blower in the tobacco industry, is a severe, sharp, resolute criticism of the industry and the American society, it’s a haunting tale of the importance of truth and the price honest people are forced to pay simply for having a conscience in a profit-oriented environment. Mann filmed a brilliant piece well-accepted by the critics, a feature nominated for seven Academy Awards, but more importantly, a film that has the wonderful, unique quality of never losing its importance. Perfectly written by Eric Roth and Mann himself, it’s an uncompromising adaptation of Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article entitled The Man Who Knew Too Much. Al Pacino and Russell Crowe dominate the screen effortlessly, giving even more credibility to a film that sticks out as an undeniable proof of Mann’s genius and one of the ultimate highlights of the fruitful nineties. Today, in a time when simple straightforwardness is still dramatically overshadowed by greed and corruption, The Insider unflinchingly stands as significant as ever.

Here’s one of our favorite screenplays of all time; a monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Eric Roth & Michael Mann’s screenplay for The Insider [PDF1, PDF2]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

 
Michael Mann talks about corporate morality, muckraking and the drama of making real-life decisions.

What was important to Eric Roth and myself from the outset was that there be nothing didactic or patronizing about this film. I would be offended if somebody had the arrogance and the presumption to tell me what I ought to do in my life. This film is not about “you all ought not to smoke” or “you all ought to smoke.” That’s an individual choice. Eric Roth and I are both smokers. We were smoking at the bar at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica while we wrote the screenplay. What this film is about is corporate power and malfeasance. And huge businesses that are highly profitable, that are really in a drug trade. From their point of view, they have a wonderful business—they have a market addicted to their product. —Michael Mann, All the corporations’ men

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Mann talk extensively with Charlie Rose about the film.

 
The Study of Mann by F.X. Feeney.

The beauty of Wigand is his awkwardness. He was definitely a hero, warts and all. He’s a scientist who went to work for a tobacco company—for the money. That’s what makes his obstinacy so heroic. His personal failings by contrast are what make him so much like us. If there had been bonding and pal-ship between him and Lowell Bergman [the producer from 60 Minutes goading him to take action played by Al Pacino], I might not have had the idea to make the film. It was precisely because Lowell didn’t exactly care for the guy, and yet put everything on the line to defend him, that I could access him, access the pair of them, and hopefully persuade the audience to access him. —Michael Mann

 
Mann was a guest in the second season of The Hollywood Masters, the interview series moderated by THR’s executive features editor Stephen Galloway.

That’s what’s wonderful about life. I mean, it is true. You know, they’re both true, they’re both multi-faceted arguments. That’s our life. I’m more interested in that, those kind of dramatic constructions than I am in the fiction of, you know, “Well, you have a binary choice.” There are no binary choices. There’s five choices. There’s complexities with all of them. Everything’s true. Bergman felt horrible and he has an imperative, he has to do what he did because he promised Jeffrey Wigand, who’s the whistleblower, that he’d protect him. What made it engaging is he didn’t like Jeffrey Wigand and Jeffrey Wigand had a lot of flaws. If Jeffrey Wigand was a saint, I wouldn’t have been as interested in this story. Precisely because of the unpleasantness about Wigand, but what he revealed. The act of revealing it took immense courage, even if the motivations were flawed.

He basically was the head scientist for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company and detailed how, even though they got in front of Congress and said that “We don’t manipulate nicotine levels, we just take a bunch of leaves, roll them into cigarettes, and you smoke them, and whatever happens happens”—that that was all a pack of lies told in Congress under oath by the heads of all tobacco companies, that they adjust the nicotine addiction levels, they manipulate it through chemistry, and he was the chief guy who was doing that at the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company. Bergman got him to go on 60 Minutes. So the moral dilemma is obvious and it is crushing to Wallace. Wallace, 10 years ago, probably wouldn’t have faded the play the way he did then. I’m moved by it because that is fact, that is real. Wallace is saying how Mike Wallace really felt. —Legendary newsman Mike Wallace “detested” The Insider, Michael Mann reveals

 
An elaborate VFX set-up for Wigand’s vision/dream scene, courtesy of William McCrabb.

What an awesome bit of movie making this is. It is the apex of The Insider, when each character reaches the climax of their respective dilemmas and find a commonality with each other, despite their different backgrounds and personalities. The beach images and atmosphere generated between these two contrasting locations (the hotel) are just superb. Pure genius. —Mannfan

 
An excellent documentary of key scenes with Michael Mann and actors. For as long as these videos are available online, you can treat yourself to some old but powerful Michael Mann interviews with some of our best loved Michael Mann scenes. This is wonderful footage, including actor interviews about the Tiger scene from Manhunterand that extraordinarily charged cliff scene in Last of the Mohicans. It includes scenes from Heat, and also the Insider. Actors speak about who they feel Michael Mann is, with some superb quotes to take away that sum up our favourite director. Get Michael Mann’s inside story. Essential viewing, enjoy. —Mannfan

A special thanks to our friend Will McCrabb for providing most of these terrific behind-the-scenes photos.

 
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  • D S

    Saw this movie for first time since the 1999 viewing at a $5 cinema in Seattle. Still holds up. Sad how journalism is being gutted since the heroes in “Spotlight” exposed corruption. Alas, Hollywood loves storing 4th Estate more than Americans lately — and now we have a man immune to facts as president. Donald Trump. Sigh.