Was anyone really surprised when The Insider tanked at the box
office? Al Pacino is a big-name actor but not one with a whole lot of box
office clout; to find a film of his that grossed more than $100 million, you
have to go back to 1990's Dick Tracy (which barely surpassed that
threshold), while before that, only The Godfather movies were genuine
hits. None of the other actors possessed any box office gusto, and while
director Michael Mann enjoyed TV success with Miami Vice, his
theatrical career offered only mildly popular films like Heat and Last of the Mohicans.
But at least those two films grossed in the sixty to seventy million dollar
range, which blows away the meager $28 million take of The Insider.
When one considers that the movie received consistently positive reviews,
the poor box office seems even more disappointing for the suits at Disney.
Nonetheless, the fact it performed so badly remains predictable. A movie
with no bankable stars made by a director with a cult following but almost
no general public recognition that focusses upon a topic - the attempt to
tell the truth about the lies from "Big Tobacco" companies - that appears
uninteresting to most people... Why was anyone surprised so few saw the
film, especially when it clocked in at a mildly intimidating 158 minutes?
In any case, it's too bad The Insider gained so few viewers because
it's really a fairly compelling film. On the surface the subject seems so
obvious as to be useless. I mean, it's not like many folks really don't
know that cigarettes are bad for you, despite the claims of the Big Tobacco
companies (which always remind me of the protests professional wrestlers
used to make when asked if the "sport" was rigged). No one expects any
shocking revelations to come from information; in fact, the only value
attached to Jeffrey Wigand's (Russell Crowe) testimony about the misconduct
of cigarette manufacturers stemmed from the fact it was one of the few times
a company "insider" admitted these issues, which obviously paved the way to
many, many lawsuits.
Although The Insider is saddled with a predictable plot - very little
happens that can't be viewed a mile away - it remains compelling just
because it's so well-executed. Mann knows his way around a thriller and can
turn banal material into fairly exciting stuff. The film lacks any kind of
action, which makes it a departure from his other work, but it still feels
like an action movie because of the aggressive way in which Mann directs it.
He moves things along at a strong clip and keeps the viewer attentive and
absorbed at almost all points; I only lost interest when we saw the (very
few) indications of journalist Lowell Bergman's (Pacino) homelife.
The acting seems uniformly excellent. Crowe received a well-deserved Oscar
nomination for his portrayal of Wigand, who he gives a corporate lifer's
exterior by gaining weight and dyeing his hair but provides a strength of
conviction that make Wigand's actions believable. Pacino doesn't stray far
from his usual indignant self but at least he tones down the theatrics more
than usual; I think he's been stuck in that ...And Justice For All
"You're out of order!!!" mode for so long that he barely remembers what it
was like not to scream most of his lines. Pacino's work here doesn't
approach the heights he hit back in his Godfather days but it
nonetheless seems more subtle and nuanced than usual.
The Insider isn't a great film, but it's a surprisingly provocative
and compelling piece. I've never been a huge fan of Michael Mann, but his
work here establishes that he can create a charged story without guns or
battles, and the end result is a powerful and still entertaining film.
The Insider appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1
on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9
televisions. Overall, the DVD presents the film with a thoroughly excellent
Sharpness appears virtually flawless throughout the movie, with no
indications of any softness. Unfortunately, jagged edges appear too
frequently; they're not omnipresent but they seemed more evident than they
should. Moiré effects weren't an issue, but I did see some of the
"ropiness" that often accompanies anamorphic downconversions on my 4X3 TV.
The print itself seemed clean and clear; I noticed no evidence of grain,
speckles, scratches or other flaws.
Colors appear largely subdued in this film, but they were relatively
accurate and true; I saw no signs of bleeding or chroma noise. Black levels
are deep and rich, and shadow detail looked clear and appropriately dense.
All in all, I found the picture to look quite strong.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Insider offers a fairly
modest mix, but it seems appropriate for the material. The soundstage
maintains a definite forward bias; the front speakers clearly dominate the
proceedings. That forward mix hangs toward the center for the most part -
this is a very dialogue-intensive film, so one wouldn't expect otherwise -
but it can spread nicely to the sides when necessary. The surrounds provide
mainly ambient information such as very mild effects or some gentle echoing
of the score.
Audio quality appears excellent throughout the movie. As I mentioned,
dialogue dominates this movie, and it sounds terrific, with clear, natural
and easily-intelligible speech apparent at all times. Effects seem accurate
and realistic, and the score displays good dynamic range and clarity, with
occasionally solid low end as well. Ultimately, The Insider features
a modest but effective soundtrack.
Although it's not a full-fledged special edition, The Insider tosses
in a few decent supplements. First up is a surprisingly good seven-minute
featurette. Usually these programs are nothing more than extended trailers,
but while this one didn't dazzle me, it tossed in a fair amount of
information in its brief space. We see interview snippets from the key cast
members and director Mann plus some clips of the real people who inspired
the story, such as Wigand and Bergman. I also noticed that many of the film
segments shown weren't used in the final product, which is unusual for a
promotional vehicle like this. Obviously I wish the piece had been longer
and more detailed, but it's still very good for what it is.
One other component of the DVD is called Inside A Scene. This purports to
document a number of different aspects behind one segment of the film, the
scene in which Wigand and Bergman first speak in a hotel room. We see the
location scout's notes, some brief comments from Mann to the actors, the way
the piece was written in the script, and also the scene as it appears in the
film. It's not fascinating but it's a mildly interesting look at
Finally, the DVD tosses in the film's theatrical trailer, one which really
plays up the conspiracy thriller aspects of the movie. No, these extras
aren't terribly substantial, but in comparison with most Disney DVDs, The
Insider seems veritably packed with supplements.
A few controversial aspects of this DVD need to be mentioned. First regards
a possible case of the old bait and switch. The package seems to indicate
that the DVD includes an audio commentary from Al Pacino and Russell Crowe,
but that's not the case; instead we find the featurette I already discussed.
Here's what the box states: "Production Featurette - Audio Commentary With
Al Pacino and Russell Crowe". As such, the case is technically correct, but
wouldn't it have made more sense for them to simply state that the
featurette included interviews with those two actors? The phrase "audio
commentary" creates entirely different expectations.
The other controversial area regards Disney's recent - and despised by
many - practice of adding advertisements to the starts of many of their
DVDs. Tarzan initiated this trend, and we also see it on The
Insider, which features previews for The Sixth Sense and
Guinevere. Personally, I don't mind these clips, and since fewer of
them appear here than on other DVDs (which had four or five), they're less
intrusive. However, I understand why many dislike them, especially since
some players apparently have trouble skipping over them. (My Panasonic
machines handle them just fine.)
Despite those issues, The Insider makes for a pretty good DVD. The
film itself is strong, with a compelling story that's very well-executed;
this piece easily could have degenerated into TV movie territory, but the
excellent cast and assured direction of Michael Mann makes certain that
doesn't happen. The DVD offers very good picture and sound, although it
lacks too many extras. The Insider definitely merits a rental, and
may be worth a purchase if you think the material will continue to interest