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By Michael S. Goldberger
Corporate Corruption, Up Close and Personal
3 & 1/ 2 popcorns
C’mon... tell the truth now. There’s something rotten going on at work, and you know about it. Maybe it’s just a little thing, like the janitor taking home note paper to practice writing English. But perhaps it’s something horrible. What if they’re putting rats’ noses in the kielbasa? Do you do anything about it?
You should tell someone, no? So what if you’ve been there 18 years, have a couple kids in college and a mortgage to pay? Right is right, and what they’re doing is wrong. But then, the reverberations your humanitarian act sets off could come back to haunt you. Remember, no good deed goes unpunished.
They could very well turn you into kielbasa. So, why stick your neck out? Because occasionally, there emerges a Braveheart willing to buck the system. We have to believe it’s so. That’s the hope that keeps us going.
Which brings us to the saga of Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco company chemist who wasn’t afraid of being turned into kielbasa — at least not initially.
The Insider is his heroic true tale, powerfully brought to the screen by director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans).
A fine muckrake that enticingly dissects the fiasco which ensued at CBS following the title character’s decision to come forth on “60 Minutes,” it is passionately written, vibrantly acted, and stylishly photographed.
Director Mann deftly melds his experience in the action genre (“ Miami Vice”) with a fine facility for seatedged dramaturgy, making this rather long suspense yarn move brisker than its hefty 157 minutes would otherwise dictate.
The stellar triptych of performances propels the tangy script by Eric Roth, based on Marie Brenner’s magazine article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” They consist of a splendid Russell Crowe (L. A. Confidential) as Wigand, the disgusted research chemist/ VP at Brown and Williamson who rationalizes abrogating a confidentiality agreement after his fitofconscience ranting gets him dismissed; Christopher Plummer in an Oscarworthy depiction of Mike Wallace that ingeniously meshes subtle mimicry with creative interpretation; and in the role of moral catalyst, Al Pacino is his piously familiar best as Lowell Bergman, the gutsy “60 Minutes” producer who cultivates Wigand from an indignant man of science to a fullfledged whistleblower.
One would think that taking on both the tobacco companies and the media is more than enough for one movie to chew on. Yet, expanding its deductions to a philosophically universal level beyond the nuts and bolts of the basic story line is what truly distinguishes The Insider. There is much to ruminate.
As flies on the wall at CBS, we are afforded a gossipy ear and eyeful. When the possibility of legal recrimination by Brown and Williamson convinces the suits at “60 Minutes” not to air the scathing segment, not only does this hang Dr. Wigand out to dry, but it confirms our worst fears about collusion at the top. And the realistic threat to home and hearth that this job for the 90s endures makes for completely absorbing tension, even if Diane Venora as the melodramatically unsupportive Mrs. Wigand is less than convincing.
However, the real drawing card here is Dr. Wigand as the martyred everyman; trying to assert some dignity in a system engulfed by fiscal cynicism, this regular Joe’s plight says fearsome volumes about the perils of heroism in modern consumerist society.
Director Mann, skillfully shepherding mood and action — though he does at times overdo the operatic score and the multitextured visual effects — winningly imbues his commentary with a thoughtprovoking life between the lines. You can read it on the faces of the corporate bigwigs.
Let’s face it. Sir Walter Raleigh had barely completed his first delivery of tobacco when we already figured that this stuff couldn’t be very good for us.
Hence, it is really no big surprise when Wigand tells Bergman that Brown and Williamson was monkeying with nicotine levels, ostensibly putting the company in the drug delivery business. The surprising thing is that someone finally decided to upset the apple cart, and that society was at last ready to handle it.
The deadly leaf has long figured in our economic equation, almost as ignominiously as the old Trade Triangle that moved money by swapping rum for slaves. Dramatizing Wigand’s travail, The Insider
emotionally investigates the American conscience as it sheds the moral contradiction that tobacco has always represented.
But old habits die hard, especially when folks are making a lot of money off of them. Thus it comes out how interconnected those powers that be really are. Though a disclaimer in the closing credits notes that certain allegations against Brown and Williamson have never been substantiated, the movie shows the company fighting for its survival on two fronts, both directly against the chemist and through threat of litigation against CBS.
With Dr. Wigand’s professional standing discredited and his domestic life decimated, the only hope for vindication is his testimony. Thus insult is added to injury when the scientist’s divulgences are kept from seeing the light of day. As it turns out, there’s a dirty little conspiracy at CBS involving multimillion dollar profits certain executives will reap if a planned sale of the network pans out.
Needless to note, a pending suit by an angry tobacco company could certainly queer the deal. But with this revelatory movie, at long last Wigand is redeemed. Sympathetic to his ordeal, we are ennobled by his example.
Paraded before understandably jaundiced eyes, this featurelength disclosure can’t help but be met with skepticism. How is it that this time we’re finally being told the truth? What if we’re merely being appeased? Of course, Mr. Mann’s film is too savvy to suggest that the war with Big Tobacco is at last won. The real message is cautionary, and not concerning our national health. But about the dangers of an everconsolidating media.
Per The Insider, it’s the American dream itself that will go up in smoke if we don’t maintain a truly free press.
* * * * *
The Insider, directed by Michael Mann, is a Touchstone Pictures release starring Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. Running time: 157 minutes.
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MOUNTAINSIDE — The Potters Guild of New Jersey will host a twoday sale of functional and sculptural ceramics at the Trailside Visitor’s Center in the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside on Saturday and Sunday, November 20 and 21, from 11 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Participating potters from the area include Lis Memoli, Don Theilberger and Carol Seidman.
Functional and decorative pottery such as vases, teapots, platters, casserole dishes, wall hangings and raku vessels will be available for sale.
The Potters Guild is open to potters of all skill levels living in New Jersey. For more information about the Guild, or to join the organization, please write the Potters Guild, c/ o Gloria Deluce, 217 Eleventh Street, Hoboken, 07030.
A PITCHER OF BEAUTY... This stoneware pitcher by Judy Musicant of The Potters Guild of New Jersey will be available during the twoday sale at the Trailside Visitor’s Center in the Watchung Reservation on Saturday and Sunday, November 20 and 21. YULETIDE CHEER… All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Scotch Plains will
hold its annual Yuletide Festival on Saturday, November 20, from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. The event will feature local dealers of antiques, holiday crafts and decorations. The All Saints’ Crafters will show their line of handmade crafts and holiday decorations, which take a full year to produce. A country kitchen will offer lunches and refreshments to shoppers as they admire antiques and consider their purchases. Pictured, left to right, are: Harriet Shaner, Ruby Brynildsen, Margellea Doldoceras, Gloria Stankas, Marjorie Miller, Kathryn Heacock, Ruby Rose, Victoria Finney and Jane Weed.
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ents Guide to Quality Child Care,” will be available to meet customers and sign copies of her new
book from 1 to 3 p. m. Ms. Ehrich takes an indepth look at the process of selecting and keeping a qualified
caregiver. She has been named as the child care consultant for the new Web site, www. interactiveparenting. com.
Thirtyyear Westfield resident, Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice, author of “The Carnitine Defense: An AllNatural Nutraceutical Formula to Prevent & Treat Heart Disease,” will be available to sign copies of his book from 3 to 5 p. m.
Signed copies may also be reserved. For more information, please call The Town Book Store at (908) 2333535.
WESTFIELD – The Town Book Store in Westfield will host appearances by three authors on Saturday, November 20.
Amy Gash of Summit, the author of “What the Dormouse Said: Lessons for GrownUps from Children’s Books,” will be available to sign copies of her newest book f r o m 11 a. m. to 1 p. m.
This book brings together the wisdom and wit of classics such as “Goodnight Moon,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Peter Pan.”
Westfield resident, Michelle Ehrich, author of “Anxious ParSee
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Due to the Thanksgiving Edition of November 25, all press releases, photos, etc. for that edition must be in the office by tomorrow, Friday, November 19, at 4 p.m. in order to be considered for publication. Any materials received after this deadline will NOT be included in the November 25 edition. Please send to the attention of Michelle H. LePoidevin, firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 250, 50 Elm Street, Westfield, 07090 or fax (908) 232-0473.
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