It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Michael Mann's "The Insider" makes a thriller and expose out of how big tobacco's long-running tissue of lies was finally exposed by investigative journalism. At its center stands Lowell Bergman, a producer for "60 Minutes," the CBS News program where a former tobacco scientist named Jeffrey Wigand spilled the beans. First Bergman coaxes Wigand to talk. Then he works with reporter Mike Wallace to get the story. Then he battles with CBS executives who are afraid to run it--because a lawsuit could destroy the network. He's a modern investigative hero, Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one.
Or so the film tells it. The film is accurate in its broad strokes. Wigand did indeed reveal secrets from the Brown & Williamson laboratories that eventually led to a $246 billion settlement of suits brought against the tobacco industry by all 50 states. "60 Minutes" did eventually air the story, after delays and soul-searching. And reporting by the Wall Street Journal was instrumental in easing the network's decision to air the piece.
But there are ways in which the film is misleading, according to a helpful article in the magazine Brill's Content. Mike Wallace was more of a fighter, less Bergman's puppet. "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt didn't willingly cave in to corporate pressure, but was powerless. The Wall Street Journal's coverage was not manipulated by Bergman, but was independent (and won a Pulitzer Prize). Bergman didn't mastermind a key Mississippi lawsuit or leak a crucial deposition. And the tobacco industry did not necessarily make death threats against Wigand (his former wife believes he put a bullet in his mailbox himself).
Do these objections invalidate the message of the film? Not at all. And they have no effect on its power to absorb, entertain and anger. They go with the territory in a docudrama like this, in which characters and narrative are manipulated to make the story stronger. The Brill's Content piece, useful as it is, makes a fundamental mistake: It thinks that Lowell Bergman is the hero of "The Insider" because he fed his version of events to Mann and his co-writer, Eric Roth. In fact, Bergman is the hero because he is played by Al Pacino, the star of the film, and thus must be the hero. A movie like this demands only one protagonist. If Pacino had played Mike Wallace instead, then Wallace would have been the hero.