The Insider is a long, slow, meditative look at the way truth is sacrificed in the name of business, and it's a better movie for possessing those qualities. Directed by Michael Mann, whose odd, stylized distance has rarely found a better vehicle, the film details the true story of the tumultuous relationship between a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino) and a former tobacco-company scientist (Russell Crowe) with potentially damaging confidential information. As the film opens, Crowe has been dismissed from a large Kentucky-based tobacco manufacturer for objecting to what he believes are dangerous practices conducted in the interest of profitability. As threats against his family mount, Crowe agrees to blow the whistle at Pacino's coaxing, believing that matters couldn't possibly get worse. What he doesn't know is that another drama will begin where his ends, as CBS officials fearing litigation—and ultimately 60 Minutes exec Don Hewitt (Philip Baker Hall) and venerable newshound Mike Wallace, eerily channeled in a fantastic performance by Christopher Plummer—balk at putting the fruits of his moral dilemma on the air. Doing a good deal less shouting than he did in Mann's Heat, Pacino plays a former radical journalist who finds his ability to work within the system put to its greatest test by his support for Crowe, a talented, hotheaded, essentially decent man who seems not to have realized that his decision to sell out to tobacco would make it hard to come in from the cold when ethical conflicts got the better of him. Never painting things in simple black and white, Mann avoids moralizing, allowing the dilemmas of his characters to raise the issues he refuses to state explicitly: In the world of his film, Big Tobacco looms as an absolute evil—corporate greed boiled down to its naked, destructive essence—but how his characters respond to that evil is what matters. The Insider is about ethics, journalistic and otherwise, and Pacino and Crowe give smart performances that rise to the occasion of dealing with abstracts in a film more than worthy of their efforts.
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