78. The Insider (1999)

TheinsiderDirected by Michael Mann

Written by Eric Roth and Michael Mann

Produced by Peter Jan Brugge and Michael Mann

Starring: Al Pacino, Rusell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Bruce McGil, Michael Gambon and Gina Gershon

Country: USA

Release date: November 5, 1999

Why should see it?

The Insider is based on the true story of a 60 minutes segment about tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffery Wigand and in Marie Brenner’s article for Vanity Fair “The man who knew too much”. This is a superb film because brought the drama to the forefront of attention, this is one of those rare movies where you have a flawless story that got diluted by over-directing the movie. Anyway this movie is a master piece in fictionalization of a true story.

The movie is truly the first great part of Russell Crowe and the last great part of Al Pacino and of course another legendary part of the marvelous Christopher Plummer.


In Lebanon, Hezbollah militants escort producer Lowell Bergman to Hezbollah founder Sheikh Fadlallah. Lowell convinces him to be interviewed by Mike Wallace  for CBS show 60 Minutes.

In Louisville, Kentucky, Jeffrey Wigand leaves his Brown & Williamson office, returning home to his wife Liane and two children. When Liane asks about the boxes in Wigand’s car, he reveals that he was fired from his job.

Upon returning home to Berkeley, California, Bergman receives an anonymous package containing documents relating to tobacco company Philip Morris, and approaches a friend at the Food and Drug Administration for the name of someone who can put the information in layman’s terms. Bergman is referred to Wigand, only to be steadfastly rebuffed. Bergman eventually convinces him to meet at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.

Wigand agrees to interpret, but stresses that he cannot talk about anything else because of his confidentiality agreement. After leaving with the documents, Wigand appears at a meeting with Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur, who orders him to sign an expanded confidentiality agreement. Wigand calls and accuses Bergman of treachery.

Bergman visits Wigand’s house the next day and maintains that he did not reveal anything to Brown & Williamson. Reassured, Wigand talks to Bergman about the seven CEOs of “Big Tobacco” perjuring themselves to the United States Congress about their awareness of nicotine’s addictiveness. Bergman says Wigand has to decide for himself whether to blow the whistle on big tobacco.

Bergman returns to CBS Headquarters in New York City, where he and Wallace discuss Wigand’s situation. A lawyer at the meeting claims that Wigand’s confidentiality agreement would effectively silence Wigand. Bergman proposes that Wigand could be compelled to speak through a court order arising from unrelated State litigation against Big Tobacco aimed at recovering Medicare and Medicaid costs arising from tobacco-related illnesses. They conclude this could give Wigand some protection against Brown & Williamson should he do an interview for 60 Minutes.

The Wigand family move into a newer, more affordable house, and Wigand begins teaching a Louisville high school. One night while asleep, he’s alerted by his daughter to sounds outside the house. Upon investigation, he discovers a fresh shoe print in his newly planted garden.

The next night, Wigand and Bergman have dinner together, where Bergman asks Wigand about incidents from his past that Big Tobacco might use against him. Wigand reveals several incriminating incidents before declaring he can’t see how they would affect his testimony. Bergman assures him they will.

Bergman contacts Richard Scruggs and Ron Motley who, with Mississippi’s attorney general Mike Moore, are suing Big Tobacco to reimburse the state forMedicaid funds used to treat people with smoking-related illnesses. The trio express an interest in Bergman’s idea and tell him to have Wigand call them. Meanwhile, Wigand receives an email death threat and finds a bullet in his mailbox, prompting him to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation who, after subtly accusing him of being emotionally unbalanced, confiscate his computer for evidence.

Enraged over the threats to his family, Wigand phones Bergman and demands to fly to New York and tape his testimony immediately. During Wigand’s interview with Wallace, Wigand states that Brown & Williamson is making their cigarettes more addictive. He continues by saying Brown & Williamson have consciously ignored public health considerations in the name of profit.

In Louisville, Wigand begins his new teaching job and talks to Richard Scruggs. Upon returning home, Wigand discovers that Bergman has given him some security personnel. Wigand’s wife is struggling under the pressure and tells him so. Days later, Wigand travels to Pascagoula, Mississippi, where he is served a restraining order issued by a State court in Kentucky to prevent him from testifying.

Though the restraining order, obtained by Brown & Williamson’s lawyers, was thrown out in Mississippi, Wigand is threatened with the contention that if he testifies and returns to Kentucky he could be imprisoned for contempt of court. After a lengthy period of introspection, Wigand goes to the Mississippi court and gives his deposition, during which he says nicotine acts as a drug. Following his testimony, Wigand returns to Louisville, where he discovers that his wife and children have left him.

Bergman and Wallace go to a meeting with CBS Corporate about the Wigand interview. The applicability of a legal theory has emerged, one known as tortious interference: if two parties have an agreement, such as a confidentiality agreement, and one of those parties is induced by a third party to break that agreement, the third party can be sued by the other parties for any damages. The more truth Wigand tells, the greater the damage, the theory applied goes, and a greater likelihood that CBS will be faced by a multi-billion dollar lawsuit from Brown & Williamson. It is later suggested that an edited interview take the place of the original. Bergman vehemently disagrees, and claims that the reason CBS Corporate is leaning on CBS News to edit the interview is because they fear that the prospect of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit could jeopardize the sale of CBS to Westinghouse. Wallace and Don Hewitt agree to edit the interview, leaving Bergman alone advocating airing it uncensored.

A PR firm hired by Big Tobacco initiates a smear campaign against Wigand, dredging up details about his life and publishing a 500-page dossier. Through Wigand, Bergman discovers that Big Tobacco have distorted and exaggerated numerous claims, and convinces a reporter from the Wall Street Journal to delay the story until it can be disproven. Bergman contacts several private investigators who do begin their own investigation. Bergman releases his findings to the Wall Street Journal reporter and tells him to push the deadline. Meanwhile, due to his constant fights with CBS management, Bergman is ordered to go on “vacation”.

Soon after, the edited interview is broadcast. After bluntly telling Wallace over the phone what he thought of the news broadcast, Bergman attempts to call Wigand at his hotel but receives no answer. He instead calls the hotel manager, who opens Wigand’s door but is stopped by the chain. Peering into Wigand’s room, the hotel manager spies Wigand sitting alone, lost in a daydream about the idyllic life he could have led without his testimony. Per Bergman’s request, the hotel manager convinces Wigand to accept Bergman’s phone call. Wigand screams at Bergman, accusing him of manipulating him into his position.

Bergman tells Wigand that he is “important to a lot of people” and tries to assure Wigand that he is doing the right thing by offering that “[ heroes] like you are in short supply”. After hanging up, Bergman contacts The New York Times and reveals the scandal that occurred at 60 Minutes, after which the Times publishes a scathing article that accuses CBS of betraying the legacy of their famous reporter, Edward R. Murrow for bowing to such attempts to silence publication of a truthful news story. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal exonerates Wigand and reveals his deposition in Mississippi, while condemning Big Tobacco’s 500-page smear as “the lowest form of character assassination.” 60 Minutes finally broadcasts the full interview with Wigand.

Bergman talks to Wallace and he tells him that despite their finally airing the piece, he is still quitting, saying, “What got broken here doesn’t go back together again.” He leaves the building. A $246 billion settlement was made by tobacco companies with Mississippi and other States in their lawsuit and that Wigand lives in South Carolina. In 1996, Dr. Wigand won the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year award, receiving national recognition for his teaching skills. Lowell Bergman works for the PBS show Frontline and teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.


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