F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 28, 2012)

28 12 2012

There has been a lot of talk about Russell Crowe’s singing abilities in “Les Misérables,” and most of it has been negative.  While I will defend (although not without a few reservations) his voice as appropriate for the role, he was an excellent choice to act the part of Javert.  And if you need any reminder as to why he was cast, look no further than the brilliant drama “The Insider,” a crowning jewel of the Michael Mann canon and my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

As Jeffrey Weigand, a major whistleblower for Big Tobacco in the 1990s, Crowe more than adequately portrays the internal storm of a man torn by doing what is ethical and what is easy.  Dr. Weigand’s research uncovered just how addictive nicotine is and how the cigarette companies can amplify the delivery of that kick – at the expense of his own job.  Bound by a confidentiality agreement, he must sacrifice the safety and security of himself and his family in order to do the right thing.

Thankfully, that’s where Al Pacino’s Lowell Bergman comes in.  A producer for “60 Minutes,” Bergman is an expert at coaxing sensitive information out of unwilling informants.  Convincing them to sit down with Mike Wallace, played here with a firm conviction by Christopher Plummer, and spill their guts on television is no easy task, yet Bergman pulls it off with finesse by offering the vast resources of CBS to shield and protect the interviewee.

Everything seems to be working out for “60 Minutes” to run a searing exposé of the tobacco industry’s vicious practices, but the network cowardly balks just before airing, putting Weigand and Bergman both in a lot of hot water.  The journey to make the truth known the American people is made compelling in an “All the President’s Men” kind of way thanks to the bravura performances of Crowe and Pacino, a team deserving of dual Oscar glory.

And beyond the work of Pacino and Crowe, “The Insider” also boasts some of the most precise directing I’ve ever seen from the brilliant Michael Mann.  When he’s on his A-game, there is no one better than him at creating tense, thrilling moments.  His editing rhythms are enthralling and perfectly calibrated to have your heart beating to the pace he wants it.  If watching the movie makes you think of “The Dark Knight,” that’s not really a coincidence; Nolan has clearly taken good notes from a master and expounded upon what Mann does so well in films like “The Insider.”