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 unsurprisingly lead to resistance from B&W – and, surprisingly, from their own network.
The All-Star Cast has a raft of recognizable actors in supporting roles, like Gina Gershon as a weaselly network executive, Michael Gambon faking a Southern accent (most of the time) as a weaselly tobacco executive, and Bruce McGill with a pretty spectacular One-Scene Wonder appearance as a lawyer who calls Wigand to testify in a lawsuit.
Nominated for seven Oscars, but didn't win any.
WIPE THAT TROPE OFF YOUR FACE!:
- Adaptation Title Change: The Insider is based on the Vanity Fair article "The Man who Knew Too Much" (likely changed to avoid confusion with the Alfred Hitchcock film.
- Adaptational Villainy: Don Hewitt is portrayed as someone who willingly and actively caves-in to the outside pressure on the CBS. In reality, he was made completely powerless by the corporate branch, much like Lowell is portrayed in the movie - the fight was more of their duo against the corporate, than against each other.
- Adaptational Wimp: Mike Wallace had much, much bigger sway, since, you know, he was the face of 60 Minutes. And he too wasn't so easily convinced to drop the segment.
- 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.
- Beard of Sorrow: Wigand grows this after seeing the smear campaign story that's run on him regarding his previous misdemeanors.
- Bittersweet Ending: The interview is eventually aired in full, but Lowell quits CBS, knowing that after what happened, he no longer can provide proper support to his sources, as the Wigand case showed that the network will cave in if the right people apply enough pressure. Wigand himself is still a broken man, that might see justice and validation for his actions, but at massive personal costs.
- Blindfolded Trip: The movie opens with Bergman being escorted blindfolded to meet a sheikh that Mike Wallace wants to secure an interview with. Bergman's job is to make sure that the sheikh will consent to the interview before arranging Mike's transportation.
- Brutal Honesty: Lowell is perfectly aware that he's harsh, brash and often rude. But he never lies nor avoids unpleasant facts - and this is how he wins the trust of Wigand.
- But Now I Must Go: In a sense. Lowell continues his career as an investigative journalist, but resigns from 60 Minutes because he won't be able to secure sources for CBS now that it is known that they'll betray those sources if enough pressure is applied.What do I tell a source on the next tough story? "Hang in with us. You'll be fine. Maybe." No. What got broken here... doesn't go back together again.
- Character Tics: When stressed or irritated, Wigand starts to stutter. On top of that, he has a very erratic moves in such state, which leads to his glasses sliding down on his nose, so he keeps pushing the bridge of them up with index finger.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive:
- The CEOs of the Big Tobacco companies, who insist, under an oath, that tobacco is harmless and non-addictive.
- There is also CBS corporate, and the top management of CBS network, which are too busy filling their pockets with incoming buy-out to risk drop of share prices due to a lawsuit from B&W.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bergman is this occasionally. The most memorable bit happens when Wigand is testing Lowell in a Japanese restaurant - Bergman makes it clear that they are both commodity to the network and the news business.
- Dirty Cop: The federal agents who show up when Wigand calls regarding the bullet placed in his mailbox and the threatening email. Rather than taking him seriously, they spend the entire time accusing him of having planted the bullet himself before stealing his computer with the incriminating email on it. Bergman chews out their supervisor regarding how many ties they and their previous coworkers have to Big Tobacco, including their ex-supervisor who is currently employed by Brown & Williamson.
- Establishing Character Moment: The opening sequence of Bergman arranging and overseeing the production of an interview of a sheikh in Lebanon. First, it establishes Bergman's role as a journalist, which is to scout out the interviewee to make sure they'll consent before Wallace flies out. Once Mike shows up, his refusal to back down when the sheikh's bodyguards try to intimidate him are to show he is a man who will see a story through to the end and won't let others browbeat him.
- Executive Meddling: In-Universe. One of the main themes of the movie is censorship and the tobacco industry's unlimited checkbook. Bergman can't get Wigand's interview aired because of CBS meddling.
- Faux Affably Evil: Brown and Williamson chief executive Thomas Sandefur presents himself as a soft spoken, friendly, and folksy Good Ol' Boy as he basically threatens Dr. Wigand and his family if he dares to reveal company secrets. It's obvious that the stalking and threats that followed were by thugs hired by Sandefur.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: A verbal one, but still counts. When Wigand seems to be unresponsive to pleas to get on the phone, Lowell orders the hotel clerk to get abrasive and get him "on the fucking phone", in those exact words - then he proceeds to chew him on said phone.
- Gratuitous Japanese: To drive point home the man speaks Japanese, Wigand makes an order in it in a Japanese restaurant. It's passable, but it's also clear Russell Crowe has no idea what he's saying.
- Greed: Lowell quickly learns why exactly the corporate branch of CBS wants to supress the segment. It's less about the fate of the network itself, but because they are preparing the sell CBS to Westinghouse and everyone in the management, including people directly involved in keeping 60 Minutes censored, has multi-million stakes in avoiding anything that would drop the stock price of the CBS.
- 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 getting Screwed by the Network in-universe, Mike Wallace is shown trying to take the high road and side with CBS. But then they start manipulating his statements as well.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Wigand takes his confidentiality agreement seriously, and it's all but stated that he only broke it because of his former employers' heavy-handed attempts at intimidating him. Even after having spoken with Bergman several times, he was still on the fence about doing the expose until he was directly threatened with an email saying his family would be killed and a bullet was placed in his mailbox. If they'd just left him alone, he might never have talked.
- Honest Corporate Executive: Wigand. And the best part is how his honesty would assure everything stays under the wraps, as he was also following his confidentiality agreement to the letter.
- Imagine Spot: After the censored interview is aired and the defeated Jeff is sitting in a hotel room, ignoring calls from Bergman, he starts to imagine his daughters playing in a garden, reminiscing happier, better times. All while the poor hotel clerk has to deal with Lowell on the phone.
- Intrepid Reporter: Lowell Bergman. Once his own network decides to ditch him, he decides to still follow through with the interview and the case he opened, because that's what he considers the right thing to do.
- 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 Brown & Williamson's legal department – 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!
- Loophole Abuse: After being told about Big Tobacco's use of the unlimited checkbook to tie up guys like Wigand in litigation, Bergman posits that they might be able to break through the confidentiality agreement legalese by arranging for Wigand to testify about what he knows in open court, so the information he knows is on public record. The CBS in-house counsel note that this tactic is plausible, though they also warn that Wigand should still find counsel willing to foot the bill for the many years of litigation B&W are going to bring against him anyways.
- Mamet Speak: A significant number of scenes focus on high-level legalese and corporate double-speak, most notably when Wigand and Bergman are discussing his employment history while attempting to tiptoe around breaking his expanded confidentiality agreement.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: A recurring element of the story:
- Jeff Wigand's ultimate decision to go against B&W and start to whistle-blow is portrayed not on health concerns (which was his real-life motivation, before B&W made it personal), but rather the company treating him like crap when he was employed and then using heavy-handed means to make him stick to his confidentiality agreement, something he wasn't even considering breaking before their threats.
- Lowell Bergman goes against his own network - potentially risking being fired, burning all the bridges he has in any direction and facing a lawsuit on top of it all - when they do everything in their might to censor the piece he prepared and vouched for with his name.
- Upon realising he was used and duped just like Wigand, Mike Wallace sides back with Lowell against CBS management.
- Naïve Newcomer: Both Jeffrey Wigand and his wife aren't fully prepared for what he got himself to. He struggles to understand why the fact he said nothing but truth is in any way bad for all of the film.(After a disastrous dinner in which the wife walks out, crying, and Wigand goes straight to the bar counter, mid-sentence)
Wallace: (flabbergasted) Who are these people?
Bergman: Ordinary people under extraordinary pressure, Mike.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: CBS higher-ups kill the story when confronted with the mere shadow of a possibility of a lawsuit from Brown & Williamson, and only relent when it becomes impossible for B&W to bring a tort case against them.
- Off the Record: The desperate call Bergman makes to the New York Times is entirely off-record, since he's basically trading insider knowledge about CBS situation. He doesn't even speak on his own, simply letting the journalist on the other side following the story on his own, only stopping him when he gets details wrong - which he never does.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Gambon, playing Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandefur, has a brief 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 Skills: Brown & Williamson's official excuse for firing Wigand.
- Precision F-Strike: Wigand declaring, "Fuck it. Let's go to court."
Bergman: (to hotel manager) I want you to tell him, in this - in these words: "Get on the fucking phone!"
- Lowell uses one to get him on the phone during Wigand's Heroic BSoD:
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 & 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 10 to 15 years. I'm telling you, they bat a thousand every time. He knows that. That's why he's not gonna talk to you...
- Shown Their Work: Towards the end of the film, Mike shows Lowell an unflattering article and editorial about CBS in the latest issue of The New York Times. The article and editorial are in different sections of the paper. Usually, their editorial/op-ed pieces usually appear in the back of the main news section. The real-life pieces to which this scene refers, were published on a Sunday (November 12, 1995) however, which means that the news and editorials do in fact appear in separate sections.
- Also, the scenes that took place in Pascagoula were filmed at the actual home of Richard Scruggs and the courtroom where the deposition was held.
- The opening sequence of the movie, while fictionalized, reflects Bergman's role in producing the first U.S. television interviews with Lebanon's Hezbollah leadership.
- Skewed Priorities: At one point, Lowell and his assistant are shown looking over B-Roll footage for a segment on New Orleans police corruption. Lowell immediately has problems with the cameraman's obsession with mounted police:Lowell: Stringer was supposed to be shooting B-Roll on street cops in New Orleans. What's with all the horses?Editor: Camera guy's got a thing for mounted police.Lowell: Don't any of these guys ride in cars or...or walk?
- Smug Smiler: The smug tobacco lawyer who tries to intimidate Wigand into shutting up when Wigand is on the stand in Mississippi. He smiles rather arrogantly when sparring with Ron Motley in the Mississippi court hearing, leading Motley to issue a deeply satisfying smackdown.Motley: WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE!
- 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 so. Or at least, have zero reason not to, because they can do it with impunity so long as they're not breaking any other laws.
- Strawman News Media: Downplayed, but still. The CBS is portrayed as such, when they are willing to self-censor their own material over a simple possibility of a lawsuit from B&W that could potentially ruin not the station itself, but the mother corporation.
- Stunned Silence: Halfway through delivering a rousing speech to Hewitt about journalistic integrity and being a newsman for a living, Lowell is left completely speechless once Mike Wallace reveals he agrees with censoring the segment. His only reaction is silently leaving the room, not believing what he just heard and from whom.
- With or Without You: "We're doing this with or without you, Lowell."
- Wham Line: After Lowell delivers a long, winded speech about journalistic integrity and standing for truth with Mike, Mike himself drops the following line, making Lowell do a Double Take:I'm with Don on this.note
- What You Are in the Dark: When he realises that his own network won't cover the case and duped Wigand already, Lowell Bergman goes through hell to both stand up for the guy and his own belief in journalistic integrity. All while he has nothing but profit for dropping the entire issue.
- "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 of aplastic anemia on July 14, 1996.