The insider: 1999 retro review

This is my second retro review, one of a series of posts which will review films that were released years ago, possibly just a few years old or possibly decades. I will most likely be reviewing them because I have just seen them on television for the first time, in which case they will be new to me and possibly very old to you, but whether my viewing is a first-time watch or a revisit of an old classic, my review will place the film in a modern context, assess how the film has aged and possibly draw comparisons with more recent offerings.

spoiler-free badbad

The Insider received almost universal praise from critics in 1999 and was nominated for many awards including oscars for best picture, best director, actor and cinematography. But I’m afraid I would describe it as passable entertainment at best and therefore condemn it as being neither good nor bad enough to watch and not really interesting enough to be worthy of any busy persons life.

So to be fair, the acting is good all round and Russell Crowe probably deserved his nomination, although Pacino really bulldozes his way into the leading actor position. The film tells the interesting story of Jeffery Wigand who appeared on the news programme ’60 minutes’ in the mid-90s to reveal secrets of the tobacco industry despite the legal efforts of his former employers, and indeed the film makes the story interesting. But I challenge anyone who saw the film in 1999 to recall anything about it a decade or two later.

It’s a long film with some reasonable tension and a few nicely moody scenes but it’s really relying on plot and acting, which as far as I’m concerned may as well be a play. Context may also be an issue here as this film came out in the fairly recent aftermath of the real events that inspired it. I’m sure that the revelation of the tobacco industry actively making their cigarettes even more addictive was genuinely shocking in the 1990s but 20 years later we’ve come to expect far worse from big tobacco and other big business. The Insider is supposedly telling the story of Wigand but even then more interest was paid to the journalist Bergman and his fallout with CNN, in other words the cover up by the media gave the story more legs, which certainly is still relevant in today’s climate.

Recommended post: Based on true events

As interesting as the story might have been at that time, the film offers very little impact watching in 2017 and I would struggle to remember any details this time next week. The film is obviously a big criticism of the tobacco companies, smoking in general, the integrity of big media companies and the corrupt system of that time, but it’s nowhere near as thought-provoking as Thank you for Smoking, which was released six years later, a film I can highly recommend and will always remember.


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