The only real problem with The Insider is that it tries too hard to be epic. It could have been trimmer and allowed the power of understatement to ring home its heavy plot (without the aid of soaring soundtrack boosts). Real-life corporate nobody Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) learns that his cigarette company is upping their nicotine level for maximum addiction. The quiet, moral man ignores his knowledge, but internal pressures overwhelm and he decides to go public. 60 Minutes backs out from an interview under legal threat from the cigarette folks, greedy people who have launched a fierce smear campaign against Wigland and sparked his wife's divorce.
Crowe excels as the ordinary man pushed into heroism's high cost. To his role as leftist 60 Minutes producer, Al Pacino brings trademark edgy intensity. The Insider succeeds by portraying each decision as conflicted and co-opted; it's a late-'90s thriller where all the action lies in moral intricacy against the cold scales of business. Brisk camerawork complements the subject matter with visual intelligence.