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.

8/10

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Movie Project #43: A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

A Beautiful Mind [2001]
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 135 minutes

(This post contains spoilers.)

The evolution of John Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind is nothing short of remarkable.

In 1947, as a graduate student at Princeton University, Nash is a bold, cocky young man. He is confident in his mathematical talent, but his social skills are lacking. A flamboyant roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), helps bring him out of his shell, and eventually he fits in with a new circle of friends.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

Nash’s personal growth is even more successful after college, as he gets a job as a professor at MIT, and he begins dating (and later marries) one of his very attractive students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). And just as he starts to grow tired of his day-to-day work, he gets a top-secret offer from a high-ranking Pentagon official, William Parcher (Ed Harris). Nash is confidentially hired on as a codebreaker, with his assignment being to find and decode hidden messages that the Russians placed into newspapers and magazines.

There’s just one problem. Parcher isn’t real.

Nash suffers from schizophrenia, and he is constantly imagining people and situations that don’t exist. Because he believes he is part of a classified government assignment, he becomes increasingly paranoid that the Russians are after him, and this begins to greatly impact his personal and professional life. Eventually, he is taken in by a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), though the treatment at this time was only shock therapy.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The middle years of Nash’s life finds him struggling with his mental illness, unable to take care of his young son and also unable to work. The film’s big Hollywood moment arrives later on when Nash begins visiting MIT daily, eventually coming to terms with his hallucinations and getting his job back as a result. And, to make his story even more inspirational, the man earns a Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s a beautiful story, even if it does get a bit too schmaltzy at times. Russell Crowe does a phenomenal job as the very real (and still alive) Nash, and his mental illness is treated tactfully. Some bits of Nash’s actual life aren’t mentioned in the film, such as his bisexuality and his child out of wedlock, but director Ron Howard has claimed that this is not meant to be a literal representation. The rest of the performances, particularly that of Connelly and Harris, are excellent, and the acting as a whole helps elevate this film.

8/10

Movie Project #14: L.A. Confidential [1997]

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.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

L.A. Confidential [1997]
Directors: Curtis Hanson
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Language: English
Country: USA

When I played through the fantastic LA Noire video game this summer, I could not help but get swept into the dark and seedy world of 1940’s Los Angeles. Many, many articles and reviews on the game mentioned its influences: old school Film Noir, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett novels, and perhaps the biggest, L.A. Confidential. I was ecstatic to finally see this 1997 modern noir title.

Set in 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential revolves around three officers in the LAPD. There’s Bud White (Russell Crowe), a quick-tempered cop who does anything to punish woman-beaters. There’s Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a rookie officer who wants to do everything by the book and refuses to break the law to provide justice. Naturally, this makes him an outcast in the department. There’s Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a narcotics detective who is in cahoots with Hush-Hush tabloid magazine editor Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). His side “job” is arresting celebrities and letting Sid take photos of them caught in the act.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

These three men become intertwined in a web of corruption, deceit and lies within the police department, all of which happens after a coffee shop massacre leaves six people dead, including a crooked police officer. So many subplots, characters and areas are brought up throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime, but this is expertly manipulated by director Curtis Hanson in a way that brings everything together. It really is fascinating how the movie brings in so many different details, yet is able to have everything make sense in the end.

There are two other major players in the movie who must be mentioned. Dudley Smith (the always excellent James Cromwell) is the leader of the police department. He has a tendency to call his men “good lads” and encourages them to twist the law in order to deliver justice. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is the female of choice, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker who is dragged into the mess due to the coffee shop death of a fellow Hollywood starlet-imposter prostitute.

L.A. Confidential [1997]

There is so much to like about L.A. Confidential. The acting is phenomenal, with what is truly an amazing cast. So many big names, all of whom are deserving of their recognition from this film. Guy Pearce in particular stood out to me, as he effortlessly succeeds in playing a sniveling little snitch who crawls under your skin. Yet by the end of the movie, his performance led me to gain a new-found respect for his character. Maybe there is some merit in playing by the rules?

Not once did L.A. Confidential feel tedious. The movie runs at a brisk pace with a lot of thrilling moments. The dialogue is sharp, the story elegant, and the characters are terrific. This is everything I could have hoped for in a modern noir, and as it stands right now, this is my favorite movie I have seen so far in this project. Simply amazing.

10/10