Cinetreasure: The Insider (1999)

A chain of events incites animosity between a strong-willed executive and a tobacco company, dragging a veteran "60 Minutes" producer into the ultimate fight of both of their lives.

Stars: Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer

Rating: R

Conflict is at the heart of good story structure and we are not sure how any filmmaker could possibly cram any more conflict into one story than experienced in The Insider. Right from the get-go, the image of a blind-folded man warns us that we are in for one thrilling ride and symbolizes the fact that truth will be "hidden" for much of this movie.

Most long, epic features would do themselves (and us) a favor by sticking to two hours or less but this nearly 160-minute film continues to churn out trouble and turmoil on all kinds of levels, from the simple stubbornness Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) exhibits when washing his hands in his kitchen sink to corporate conspiracies involving the media and the FBI.

Instead of having the characters contemplate their grueling decisions through voice-over narration, the talent of director Michael Mann (Heat, The Keep, Thief) focuses, instead, on body language, close-up visuals, and over-the-shoulder shots to convey an intimate, documentary-like portrait of the characters' lives.

Not a single, breathtaking moment is arbitrary or random. Everything serves to enlighten us, including the histories of these characters, explaining why they make specific choices as the story unfolds.

Everyone has strong reasons for their actions in the film, and their arguments are skillfully communicated, especially in the cross-banter between Jeffrey Wigand and Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) and even Bergman and Mike Wallace (played by Christopher Plummer). If you enjoy argumentative discourse, there is no better film.

Director Michael Mann is the master of moving-car shots. After all, he did grace us with an abundance of them in the epic television series, "Miami Vice". Mann delivers one of his best moving-car shots in The Insider when Wigand ponders a perilous decision in the backseat of a limo. Images of tombstones lie on one side of the character while calm, peaceful waters lie on the opposite side. This kind of freedom versus death imagery beautifully symbolizes the contrasting choices that plague Dr. Wigand.

You'll also find lots of symbolism beyond the car sequences. By the film's end, you will have witnessed two men making their way through a similar, circular, lobby doorway, both broken in the pursuit of truth. What can be gained in such a noble, uphill climb? That question is left to be answered in the minds and hearts of viewers as they carry the film with them.

And many of them have already done so, allowing the film to change their perspective on corporate America. In fact, shortly following the film's release, the tobacco industry lost its first multi-billion-dollar lawsuit. Now, that’s the ultimate power of expert storytelling: to enact change in society.