How would Russell Crowe's whistle-blower survive today? @ 1 March 2013 07:38 PM
Much of the Oscar buzz 14 years ago was about Michael Mann's The Insider, an intense, stylized dramatization about Jeffrey Wigand, the former Brown & Williamson tobacco executive who went public with history-making revelations on the iconic CBS newsmagazine show, 60 Minutes.

Ironically, to my teenage daughter, who has grown up in a world in which cigarettes are not the norm in most public places and seemingly always known to be harmful, it's hard to conceive of the magnitude of Wigand's revelations, aside from the chemical additives. Why would the "seven dwarfs" need to lie in court when everyone know smoking isn't good for you? There was a time when it wasn't completely acknowledged and an industry would do anything to keep it that way.

What my daughter did see, however, is one of the reasons that Russell Crowe earned his stature as an A-list actor, beyond just being that guy in Les Miz who wasn't singing as well as the others. His Oscar-nominated performance in The Insider (also nominated for director Mann and the film istelf) is worthy of the highest praise, as is that of Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer and a fine supporting cast that includes Michael "Gandalf" Gambon, Colm Feore and even WKRP in Cincinnati star Gary Sandy (scowling in the shadows as a sinister lawyer).

Speaking of shadows, there are a lot of them in The Insider, along with lots of long, pensive passages punctuated with moody music, odd shots that lingering on extraneous areas of the set or people, close ups on patterns and shapes and pretty much everything that was very much in vogue after Mann's pop culture sensation, Miami Vice -- and its MTV-influence use of color, camera movement and editing -- set the tone for film and TV. Even TV shows of today rely on moody montages set to a contemporary or classic tune to button up an episode.

But when you've got Pacino, Crowe, Plummer and the rest, why jiggle the camera around as if my sister was videotaping a birthday party? Often the style actually gets in the way of the drama, vies for the viewer's attention and only adds to the film's length rather than adding to the mood.

It's the equivalent of a late '60s musical in which things are just beginning to roll along when a character sits down and sings. In a musical, songs say what dialogue cannot, and it's an art to know where to put them. The same is true for signature filmmaking style.



When not done to excess, these creative touches can be impressive, and the Blu-ray shows them off to their best advantage. This is especially evident in scenes painted with color, like the driving range sequence in which Crowe is drenched in a green tint that rivals Margaret Hamilton. Many of the sets are truly striking. Even a simple hotel hallway takes on its own personality.

This is an interesting time in history to watch The Insider again -- or for the first time -- knowing what you know about the events that happened since, particularly in big business and mass entertainment. Al Pacino's character cannot defiantly run his version of the report on YouTube in this era. CBS isn't the conglomerate that it and its rival networks are today. Could an exposť like Wigand's interview even be considered for network TV now -- or would it break on the internet first?

And what of Wigand's fate? On the one hand, big business is bigger than ever and the reach is longer. On the other, there are things like the Whistleblower Protection Act and other efforts to keep these individuals from retaliation.

The Insider a riveting story that takes on a new dimension in light of where we are now, and where we need to go. You just have to be patient with the shaking camera and the other distracting affectations.


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