The Insider (1999) is a film rife with ethical dilemmas, suspense and controversy.
It is based on a true story related to a 1994 episode of the CBS news show 60 Minutes
that never aired. The plot puts Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) at odds with Brown & Williamson, the third largest tobacco companies in the country. Wigand was fired from his position as Vice President of Research and Development, at which he was instructed to hide information related to the addictive nature of nicotine. The plot takes off when Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), producer for 60 Minutes, discovers that Wigand has a story to tell. The best way for Wigand to tell that story is with the help of Bergman, via an interview aired on 60 Minutes. However, tobacco companies have a history of viciously defending their profits, by whatever means necessary, and Brown & Williamson does just that. The story hits a climax as the interests and incentives of the television station CBS, 60 Minutes, Dr. Wigand and Brown & Williamson are played out.
Portrayal of Business
The film portrays business in an extremely negative light. It focuses on two
central conflicts – one between Brown & Williamson and Wigand, the other between
CBS Corporation and Bergman.
Brown & Williamson is the primary antagonist. The film is ripe with examples of
the bad things they do. Their principle, most damaging offense is deceit. They are
charged with covering up the addictive properties of nicotine and finding ways to exploit it to increase profits. For example, in Wigand’s interview for 60 Minutes, he says that tobacco companies view cigarettes only as a delivery device for nicotine. He also says they take advantage of the addictive properties by manipulating and adjusting them, a practice known as “impact boosting,” and adding chemicals so that nicotine is more rapidly absorbed into a person’s blood stream. During the same interview, he accuses Brown & Williamson CEO Thomas Sandeford perjured himself in a testimony to the United States Congress.
In that testimony, the “seven dwarves”, the name given to the CEOs of the seven
largest tobacco companies, delivered a statement on the addictive nature of cigarettes. They all claimed that “cigarettes and nicotine do not meet classic definitions of addiction.”
That deceit was not enough. Brown & Williamson also took whatever steps
necessary to protect their secret. For example, they threatened Wigand’s and his family’s safety, got the state of Kentucky to issue a gag order on Wigand to block him from speaking publicly and attempted an image assassination campaign to discredit the information Wigand decided to leak.
The juxtaposition between Wigand’s perspective and their attempts at deceit is the
lynchpin for Brown & Williamson’s image in the film. Wigand is portrayed as the victim, which implies that the viewer should see Brown & Williamson as the villain.
As the conflict between Brown & Williamson and Wigand...