The Insider

The Insider (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer
Extras: Featurette, Trailer

Among the films of Michael Mann, "The Insider" is, perhaps, one of those that is most easily overlooked, despite the fact that it is actually one of his best in many ways. It is a powerful drama exploring the struggle of two men as they fight a corporate giant. In this film, Mann abandons his trademark action sequences and replaces them with more character development, which gives the film its own unique style.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jeffery Wigand, a former executive with the Brown-Williamson tobacco company. Wigand is approached by Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), a producer for the television show "60 Minutes," asking if he would serve as a consultant on a story about cigarettes and fires.

Shortly after they meet, however, Bergman realizes that Wigand is sitting on a much bigger story, a story filled with details about how the big tobacco companies view the addictive nature of cigarettes. Gradually, Bergman convinces Wigand to overcome his reservations and make sure that his story gets told.

But they soon learn that the corporate giant, Brown-Williamson, won't go down without a fight. As Wigand receives death threats and gag orders, both men must fight to save their reputations and their families in an uneven fight that gets increasingly more ruthless and dangerous as they go on.

The film features great performances by its cast, most notably Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer's dead-on take as investigative reporter Mike Wallace. Also, Mann uses his signature camera work to help heighten the suspense and power of the story itself. Through tight close-ups and shots where the camera can't seem to sit still, Mann keeps the viewer on edge as we learn Wigand's secrets and watch him fight for his existence. Justas the film gets more frantic, so does the camera.

While built upon a great story with a dynamic premise, sadly the film's pacing leaves a bit to be desired at times. Dragging at times, lingering too long on moments that could have been either abandoned altogether or tightened up, the film is not quite as tedious as Mann's "Heat," and was fortunately made before the age of digital cameras, which completely destroyed Mann's work in recent years with its excessive switches between shallow and deep focus and the rampant jumps between colorspaces.

Overall, "The Insider" is a well-made drama, which shows a great deal of talent and tells a very important story that dos have some historical relevance, particularly in the light how big tobacco companies have been forced to change the approach to marketing and advertising their goods.

Arriving in high definition for the first time, "The Insider" features a clean 1080p high definition transfer that has been remastered for this release. It is free of blemishes or speckles and presents an image that offers a high level of detail. Rich colors and deep black levels ensure that the transfer does justice to viewers' expectations and is a definitive improvement over the old DVD version out in the market in terms of grain, color reproduction, sharpness and detail.

The release offers a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is well balanced and surprisingly active. It reproduces even the most subtle sound effects and ambiances with remarkable fidelity, giving you the impression that you are really there in the room with the actors.

As extras Buena Vista Home Entertainment has added the same feature that was found on the DVD release ages ago, without any upgrade. Slightly mis-labelled, this so-called "Production Featurette — Audio Commentary with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe" is really just a short featurette. A real commentary track is actually missing from the release. In addition, the "Inside a Scene" featured promised on the disc's packaging is also not included, which is surprising as it was part of the DVD version. You will, however, find the movie's trailer on the release.

In terms of bonus materials, this release is definitely a let-down, given the gamut that his subject matter would have offered. Bonus materials could have ranged from real commentary tracks all the way to a look at the real "60 Minutes" episode and a general discussion of the impact that this case has had on the tobacco industry as a whole. So once again, there were a lot of missed opportunities here, and one can't help but feel that Buena Vista Home Entertainment treated this release as shovelware, just trying to get it out in the market, bad cover and all.

Still, for fans of the film and Michael Mann's work, this Blu-Ray is definitely an upgrade worth checking out.