Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Insider


Before Russell Crowe took a stab at a Roman Emperor and was remembered for eternity for an Oscar award, he played a real life, down and almost out, former employee of a tobacco in The Insider.

Crowe played Jeffrey Wigand a whistleblower that broke open the case versus the tobacco companies; the allegation was that the companies have long known the obvious for years – cigarettes kill. And not only do they know, the movie says, part of their marketing strategy was to make the product more addictive, thereby increasing their profits.

The Insider is not a mafia story or of spies and assassinations, but the effect is almost the same. When in a movie about the mafia or CIA, you’ll have the thrill of the hero, who is often a little guy, not knowing where the attack is going to come; in Insider, you’ll know it can happen to you. There may be no assassinations but there were death threats which could have carried out by the villains of the story – the tobacco companies.

Wigand faced an enemy more real to you or me. He faced a big corporation making millions of dollars all throughout the world. It was a corporation that had its fingers in government, from lawmakers to law enforcers; and it also had some influence in the media. Granted the tobacco companies were not an all powerful entity who controlled everybody, they were enough to handle a lone disgruntled employee with a conscience.

The hero of the story faced death threats, lawsuits, economic pressured; and for a man with family, a mafia style hit would have been more manageable. At least he would be dead. Instead, his wife left him; from a corporate job he makes do with as a chemistry professor to pay for bills. Wigand survives law suits with pro-bono attorneys, good as they are; it is not an ideal situation for anybody. He faced death threats almost every night. It may be psychological ploy but then again with millions of dollars involved, it may be not.

There were no bullets in this movie unlike other heart pounding movies I have liked in recent years, and nobody even got killed. It was suspenseful nonetheless but in a more realistic way. Courts and character assassination are just as scary as being shot at in the streets.

Newspapers since the time of President Estrada have seen whistleblowers. They are not the perfect people and the stories they tell may not be all that true. But I wonder what there life is like. In a high stakes game with powerful people and money that reaches the millions, its nerve racking I am sure.

The Insider gives me an inside view of what its like knowing to much against powerful people. A mafia story would just have a killer dressed up as a priest or anything to get an open shot; in this film it’s the system and all the lawful recourse for all citizens that can be used as a killer. It’s all about money, or as they say in tagalong pera pera lang.

Russell Crowe did not win in this film but he was nominated in the year prior to his winning role as Maximus of Gladiator. However, in my view, it was the better of his two performances. He was not dashing and heroic but depressed and out of his mind which is what the character demanded on him; and he played it perfectly.

Crowe had an excellent supporting cast as well. And none was better than Al Pacino who played the better ‘fighter’ of the two. Pacino played Lowell Bergman was the 6o minutes producer whom Wigand had confided in this inside story. Don’t get me wrong but calling Bergman a better fighter was not my way of diminishing the courage of Wigand who is the true hero, but being part of the media he knew what the high stakes game is all about.

Bergman was instrumental in helping Wigand and in general the case against the tobacco companies, but more importantly in addition to Wigand he was the only other character in the movie who fought for what was right. It was a fight I had hoped Mike Wallace – excellently played by Christopher Plummer – would have taken up with more zeal, but sadly it was not.

I recommend this movie for those with the taste of a more intellectual danger; one that doesn’t deal with bullets and whole scale massacres of family members. It’s a must also for Russell Crowe fans as it brought the Australian actor to the spotlight. The Insider was the first of his three consecutive Oscar nominations, and second time’s the charm with Gladiator. He seems to have lost with a close margin in his third nomination in A Beautiful Mind but was so respected by his director Ron Howard, who dedicated his own Oscar that year to his lead actor.

And what of real life ‘insiders’ we often see in the news? Do we believe them or not? Do we admire them? On a case to case basis, I think, we can trust their testimonies to have some truth in it. Conspiracy is often only uncovered by a co-conspirator. Truth can come from unexpected and very brave sources.