High strung and potent, Michael Mann’s movie relies on uncompromisingly smart dialogue and superlative performances, above all from Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Mann (“Heat,” “Ali,” “Collateral”) sometimes lets style overwhelm substance, but not here.
In this adaptation of a true story, Crowe is Jeff Wigand, a research biologist who knows the tobacco industry lied about cigarette manufacturing. CBS television producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) senses he’s onto something big with Wigand, but must coax him to snitch on air. This he does, persuading Wigand to bypass a confidentiality agreement. But the CBS parent company is Westinghouse, and it quashes the program fearing litigation. Mann’s intention is to expose both corporate deceit and cowardice among those who ostensibly preach truth-seeking. Crowe’s Wigand is magisterial: terrified, indignant, desperate. Pacino is Pacino, at once intense and oily cool. Of the suppressed Wigand interview, he snarls: “Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he’s not telling the truth? No. Because he is telling the truth. That’s why we’re not going to air it.” Ranks with “Network” on the all-time journalism top-five list.