Film: The Insider

The Insider is a 1999 film from Touchstone Pictures starring Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer.

It tells the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), a senior researcher at Brown & Williamson tobacco company. After Wigand is fired from B&W he goes to 60 Minutes and producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) to spill the secrets he knows about the tobacco industry. Wigand's and Bergman's attempts to reveal the truth about Big Tobacco lead to resistance from B&W—and, surprisingly, from their own network.

Nominated for seven Oscars but didn't win any.

This film contains examples of:

  • Autobiographical Role: Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore (no relation to the filmmaker of the same name) and private investigator Jack Palladino appear as themselves, playing the roles in the story that they played in real life. (Palladino's wife, Sandra Sutherland, did not appear as herself; the character is played by actress Megan Odebash.)
  • Based on a True Story: Broadly accurate. Some have suggested Wigand exaggerated his persecution at the hands of Brown & Williamson. The scene with a creepy guy stalking Wigand at a golf range is definitely fictional. Mike Wallace, as noted above, felt that the film lionized Bergman unfairly at his expense. Don Hewitt was also unhappy with his portrayal, but joked that if they'd had Paul Newman playing him, "I would've forgiven them anything." The real Lowell Bergman however claimed that the portrayal of Wallace was largely true to how he acted in real life.
  • But Now I Must Go: Bergman quits at the end, believing that what went wrong at CBS can't be fixed.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur, played by Michael Gambon.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bergman is this occasionally.
  • Driven to Suicide: It never happened, since the real Wigand is still alive in 2015, but it's heavily implied by the movie that Wigand's thoughts are turning to this towards the end as his life crashes around him.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe. One of the main themes of the movie is how censorship and the tobacco industry's unlimited checkbook. Bergman can't get Wigand's interview aired because of CBS meddling.
  • Heroic BSOD: Wigand has a pretty memorable one when the abridged 60 Minutes program airs.
    • Bergman has one of his own when he finds out Wallace is siding with the bosses about not airing the story.
  • Heel-Face Turn: When Wigand and Bergman are both getting Screwed by the Network, Mike Wallace is shown trying to take the high road and side with CBS. But then CBS starts manipulating his statements...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Wigand takes his confidentiality agreement seriously, and it's implied that he only broke it because of his former employers' heavy-handed attempts at intimidation. If they'd just left him alone he might never have talked.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Wigand.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Wigand.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lowell Bergman.
  • Irony: A particularly cruel example; the hotel room Wigand is forced to live in as his life collapses all around him is located directly opposite the offices of the legal department of Brown and Williamson the very people whose machinations forced him into that hotel room in the first place.
    Wigand: You manipulated me into where I am now, staring at the Brown and Williamson building! It's all dark except for the tenth floor. That's the legal department — that's where they fuck with my life!
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The CBS higher-ups, when confronted with the mere shadow of a possibility of a lawsuit from Brown & Williamson, choose to kill the story, and only relent when it becomes impossible for B&W to bring a tort case against them.
  • Off the Record
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Gambon, playing Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur, has a small slip during the delivery of one line: "It's spooky how he can concentrate!" He sounds English on "spooky" especially, but otherwise maintains a Southern accent, as Sandefur was from Georgia.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Brown & Williamson's official excuse for firing Wigand.
  • Precision F-Strike: Wigand declaring, "Fuck it. Let's go to court."
    • Bergman uses one to get Wigand on the phone during Wigand's Heroic BSOD:
    Bergman: (to hotel manager) I want you to tell him, in this - in these words: "Get on the fucking phone!"
    Hotel manager: I can't say that.
    Bergman: No, you can. Tell him to get on the fucking phone!
    Hotel manager: He told me to tell you to "Get on the...fucking phone!"
    (Wigand grabs the phone)
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: What the CBS lawyers explain to Mike and Lowell is the reason why getting an interview out of Wigand on 60 Minutes will be impossible:
    John Harris: They don't need the right. They've got the money.
    Mark Stern: The unlimited checkbook. That's how Big Tobacco wins every time. On everything. They spend you to death. $600 million a year in outside legal: Chadbourne-Parke. Uh, Ken Starr's firm, Kirkland and Ellis. Listen. GM and Ford, they get nailed after 11 or 12 pick-ups blow up. Right? These clowns have never...I mean ever...
    John Harris: Not even once.
    Mark Stern: ...not even with hundreds of thousands dying each year from an illness related to their product...have ever lost a personal-injury lawsuit. On this case, they'll issue gag orders, sue for breach, anticipatory breach, enjoin him, you, us, his pet dog, the dog's veterinarian - tie him up in litigation for ten to fifteen years. I'm telling you, they bat a thousand every time. He knows that. That's why he's not gonna talk to you...
  • The Stool Pigeon: Of the "Whistleblower Wilson" type.
    • Particularly notable, as this is one of the last sensationalist cases of a whistleblower before the Whistleblower Protection act in the US, which prevented retaliation from the company that's being called out. When Wigand points out that B&W is fucking with his life, they are legally entitled to do sonote .
  • Strawman News Media: Type 1
  • With or Without You: "We're doing this with or without you, Lowell."
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Cards explain what happened to Wigand and Bergman after the events of the scandal before the credits. They don't document:
    • That Wigand's boss Thomas Sandefur died in 1996 at the age of 56 from aplastic anemia.
    • Richard Scruggs was imprisoned for bribery from 2008 to 2014.
    • Ron Motley, the lawyer in Mississippi at the deposition hearing, died in August 2013 of prolonged illness.