The travails of upper-middle-class life and corporate careers are often fodder for movie comedy. "The Insider" approaches them without condescension or preconceptions; this film knows that the loss of medical benefits is a weapon as lethal as a knife or gun.
Wigand's struggle to preserve his good name and his kids' future becomes as palpable as the quest of any action hero. But Wigand is an inaction hero -- paralyzed by powerful forces, dependent on the kindness of strangers. And, despite some advance press reports, Bergman emerges as a complicated protagonist, not a bloodied-but-unbowed journalistic saint. He's bloodied, he's bowed, but he's strong enough to change his life.
Mann speaks in a Chicago accent, in a kind of elongated staccato; his disdain for personal revelation is reflected in his language. He likes to use words like "atonal," which are usually linked to more abstract arts like music or graphic design. Even in idle chatter about the visual sophistication of MTV-weaned audiences, he describes their ability to pick up "distonic little vibes."
But I do have one personal story. In 1981, the late Jonathan Benair, a screenwriter and voice actor deservedly renowned for his wit, discovered he was living in an apartment that Mann had once occupied, a block away from Canter's Delicatessen in L.A.'s Fairfax district. Not long afterward, Benair asked his favorite Canter's waitress why she'd left her post for a few days. "Oh, there was this writer," she said. "He used to come in and work at all hours, and he promised me that when he made his movie he'd fly me to the premiere." The movie was "Thief," the premiere was in Chicago and the writer was Michael Mann.
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