An Angry Insider's View

This week, CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews The Insider, a Touchstone Pictures film.
Let me tiptoe through a minefield. By now you have probably heard that Michael MannÂ's new movie, The Insider, on Big Tobacco, Big Television and Big Bucks, says terrible things about CBS. Some of these things are true, some are not, and there have been memos about it and injured feelings, too.

I propose to ignore most of this talk about the Big Picture, which may be overwrought, but ends up on the side of the angels and has a terrific time getting there. My colleagues are Big Boys who have dished it out, and they ought to be able to take it. Meanwhile, what we have on the Big Screen is angry, scary and suspenseful - a gaudy amalgam of Three Days of the Condor, All the PresidentÂ's Men, Silkwood and The China Syndrome.

Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe like a car bomb counting down to go boom, is a biochemist who sold out to a Big Tobacco company in Louisville for $300,000 a year. When heÂ's fired for objecting to the addition of ammonia to cigarettes - to speed up the delivery of nicotine to a smokerÂ's brain - he starts to tick. He needs the severance and health-care package, but the company makes him sign away his manhood.

John Leonard
Lowell Bergman, played by Al Pacino as if he were Che Guevara and Joan of Arc, is a producer for 60 Minutes, tracking down and setting up stories for Christopher PlummerÂ's Mike Wallace to nail on camera. He needs an insider to blow the whistle on the merchants of death.

As if in some virtual datasphere of feverish digits and color-coded mood swings, they confide in each other through the dreadful intimacy of cell phones, computer screens, videotape and fax machines. Wigand will be followed, threatened and lose everything. Bergman will collide head first with a corporate CBS, memorably embodied by Gina Gershon, who's so fearful of a lawsuit on the eve of the networkÂ's sale to Westinghouse that 60 Minutes is ordered to cancel the Wigand interview.

And Bergman will have to blow his own whistle, which means that, like Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, he will leak all over The New York Times.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
IÂ've omitted an arcane discussion of the concept of "tortious interference" - although some day weÂ'll test in courthe right of corporations and intelligence agencies to make us sign away our citizenship in confidentiality agreements that protect their criminal activities.

I also omit WigandÂ's testimony in civil suits brought by seven states. The movie and I both omit the fact that the previous owner of CBS also owned his own tobacco company. And I skip blithely over the many complaints around here about the liberties the film takes with who did what to whom, and when and why. IÂ've been slandered myself in a couple of novels, and IÂ'm just glad nobody read them.

The Big Picture is that The Insider is a furious, exciting movie. And if we arenÂ't worried about big corporations that sell us death on the installment plan, and about big media conglomerates that would rather their news divisions stay away from certain stories, we need a paranoia additive to speed up the delivery of the real world to our smoked brains.

Written by John Leonard
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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