The primary concern of Michael Mann’s work seems to be dissecting the notion of what it means to be a man. All of his characters, criminal or no, live their lives by a code. In The Insider (1999), that code is embodied in a couple of different ways.
For Jeff Wigand (Russell Crowe), former tobacco executive and scientist, being a man means supporting your family and doing right by them. While working for Big Tobacco has afforded him a number of luxuries, including good health care for an asthmatic daughter, it has also effectively meant selling his soul to the Devil for financial security. Unable to look his family in the eyes anymore, he decides that he must resign and blow the whistle on his former employers.
Wigand is soon embroiled in controversy when his own confidentiality agreement comes back to bite him and he cannot testify on the record about his findings as a tobacco employee. Unfortunately, this also involves telling the American people (via reporter Mike Wallace) what he knows on TV news magazine 60 Minutes.
60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergmann (Al Pacino) wants to tell Wigand’s story – but what else, if anything, is at stake for him? Wigand is the one getting the death threats and he is the one whose character’s being assassinated in the press by Big Tobacco. For Bergmann, all Wigand represents is a story – albeit one which calls his own journalistic integrity into some question because network executives at CBS are “bought off” by the threat of litigation if he shows the unedited version of Wigand’s interview on television.
If anything is truly at stake for Bergmann it’s that he gave his word to Wigand that the story would be told and corporate pressures forced him, for a time, to re-nig on his word. As he tells Wigand at one juncture, “I been out in the world giving my word, and backing it up…with action.”
The notion of trust in Michael Mann’s work – which goes in a certain sense to the code that characters live by (whether criminals or not) – is very much alive and well in the world of Michael Mann – in so far as it is rather fragile. In this scenario Bergmann is definitely the individual going against his own particular machine very much in tandem with Wigand going against the corporate machine of Big Tobacco. Certainly Bergmann means well, at least in that he wants to tell Wigand’s story, but what good is that against corporate pressure?