Movie Project #8: The Insider [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Insider [1999]

The Insider [1999]
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann, Eric Roth
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 157 minutes

Whistleblowing reports are ripe for film adaptations, and Michael Mann’s The Insider turns one such true story into a gripping thriller. No action scenes are necessary here; instead, the film builds tension through the tumultuous work that is investigative journalism, and the extreme lengths large corporations will go to cover their asses.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist who decides to blow the whistle on the illegal behavior of his former employer, Brown & Williamson. Part of the triumvirate that is Big Tobacco, B&W had blatantly lied to Congress about the addictive nature of their cigarettes. Wigand is persuaded to spill the beans about these blatant perjuries by 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino).

There’s a lot on the line here. Wigand is breaking his confidentiality agreement, thereby risking jail, and he is receiving all sorts of legal pressure from his former company. He becomes paranoid, believing there to be threats on his life, and it begins to unravel his once-stable family. Bergman, determined to get this story out there, is fighting profusely with his superiors at CBS. They are worried about the possible financial repurcussions that could happen if they were to air an interview with Wigand. There’s a lot of back-and-forth drama going on, and the pressure takes its toll on both men. By the end of the film, both Wigand and Bergman look like they have been to hell and back. It’s an increasingly desperate battle between the evil corporation and those seeking to tell the truth.

The Insider [1999]

There is an equal emphasis on both men in this film. We grow to learn more about Wigand early on, as he battles with himself on whether or not to fully go through with his actions. Later, Bergman is the main focus as he fights tooth and nail to get the 60 Minutes interview with Wigand on the air and unedited. Even when things are looking absolutely dire, neither one gives up.

Both characters are well-written and given an ample amount of screen time, and Crowe and Pacino bring out the best in them. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more noticeable just how much of an uphill climb they have ahead of them. Crowe and Pacino are backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as the TV show’s top boss, and Diane Venora as Wigand’s distraught wife.

The Insider [1999]

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the running time. This is a captivating story, no doubt, but it feels a bit stretched too thin to warrant a running time of over two and a half hours. There are moments where the film drags, and a bit more editing would have been beneficial.

In the end, The Insider asks the question: is justice really worth fighting for? In this case, yes, it appears so. All of the hard work from these two men did pay off, as the Big Tobacco companies reached a massive settlement (over $200 billion) with all 50 states. Wigand and Bergman emerged as different men by the end of it all, but it can be argued their perseverance made them stronger than they ever were before.


Movie Project #33 and #34: The Godfather: Part II [1974] and Casablanca [1942]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall.

As part of our traditional Thanksgiving movie marathon, my girlfriend and I opted to watch the first two Godfather films back to back, as well as a couple of other classics. I had seen the first Godfather before, but that was many years ago. The Godfather: Part II is a fantastic followup to the original, this time focusing on Michael Corleone as the new Don. Michael is an intriguing figure who clings to ideals that are starkly different from his deceased father, and many of his actions make him out to be a cold-hearted bastard. In fact, it was almost hard to watch the film at times simply because Michael was a complete asshole to everyone involved in his life. A phenomenal piece of acting from Al Pacino, but man, what a dick.

There is also a parallel storyline in Part II that shows the early life of Vito Corleone, this time played by Robert De Niro in one of his finest performances. I found this story to be the more fascinating of the two, as it showed Vito’s evolution from a young immigrant arriving on Ellis Island to his rise as the Godfather. The two unique storylines in the film are masterfully connected, culminating in an epic saga that never has a dull moment. Not enough can be said about the all-star cast (Pacino, De Niro, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton, etc.), and the ending is just as powerful as the original’s unforgettable conclusion. It’s not often that a sequel can be considered as good as its predecessor, and many even consider this to be the best of the trilogy. I still prefer the first film, mainly because I actually liked Brando’s Vito Corleone, but there is no mistaking that Part II is another masterpiece. 9/10

Casablanca [1942,  Michael Curtiz]
Casablanca [1942, Michael Curtiz]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid.

I don’t know what is more shameful to admit: that I hadn’t seen Casablanca before this, or that I had never seen a Bogart film period. It’s easy to see why both Casablanca and Bogart are held in such high regard. The film is such a classic love story, and Bogart is just the man to play the cynical lead, Rick Blaine. Tough on the outside but broken hearted on the inside, Blaine is certainly a memorable character, and the chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund) is off the charts. The love triangle between the two of them, and Ilsa’s current husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), is brilliant in that all three characters are immensely likable.

One can only imagine how difficult of a decision it would be for all parties involved in this triangle. Will Ilsa run away with her long lost flame? Will Rick help Ilsa and her current lover escape from the Nazis, even though there is clearly still a spark between the two of them? It’s one of those great moments in film where the story could result in a number of endings, but I was very pleased with the final conclusion. It took some major cojones to not go with the typical Hollywood ending, and for that I am very grateful. I liked the movie well enough after watching it, but I just gained a whole new appreciation of the film after sitting down to gather my thoughts and write about it. Simply wonderful. 9/10

Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]
Directors: Michael Mann
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Heat is an epic crime film in every sense of the word. Michael Mann really went all out with this blockbuster, cashing in on his $60 million budget and getting the most out of the nearly three hour runtime. This Los Angeles-set movie is mainly focused on two men: Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a veteran LAPD homicide detective, and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), a lifelong criminal and expert robber. Both men live for one thing — the rush they get from their jobs — and their personal lives suffer from it. Once Hanna gets wind of McCauley’s criminal escapades throughout the city, he becomes fascinated by him and tracks him on his way to his biggest heist yet. The character development for these two characters is outstanding, and it is easy to become attached to both, even though one is clearly “good” and the other is “bad.”

The movie is aided by an unbelievably strong and star-studded cast. Seriously, this is a who’s-who of popular actors from the 90’s (although not restricted to that decade, obviously). De Niro frequently shares screen time with his group of thieves, which includes Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo and Kevin Gage. There are also small, but important, roles from Jon Voight, William Fichtner and Dennis Haysbert. Even a very young Natalie Portman is in this movie. Each of these characters has a fleshed-out storyline to make the viewer care about them, and that is impressive even with the movie’s extended running time.

And yeah, about that length. It took me a while to get around to this movie due to its prolonged running time. This is a long crime saga, and you have to be prepared to sit down for the full three hours to get through it. Is it worth watching all the way through? Yes, absolutely! While there are a number of subplots weaving in and out of the main storyline (some that probably could have been omitted), this is still very much an exceptional film due to excellent acting, a strong script and some downright badass scenes.

There are two scenes in particular that everyone talks about whenever Heat is brought up. One is the bank heist/shootout, an elongated gun battle that is quite possibly one of the best firefights ever recorded in film. The other is a sit-down scene where Pacino and De Niro have a cup of coffee, the very first time the actors have appeared together on screen. Much was made of this encounter when the movie came out, and it is still interesting to see it today. Both scenes are phenomenal, albeit in very different ways.

Some will cry that Mann went overboard with this movie, trying to cram too many stories into one film. I agree that a little probably could have been trimmed off the top, but I still very much enjoyed Heat. This is one of the best crime sagas that I have seen, and its frequent praise is well-deserved.