Monday, January 20, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LII
The Insider
This movie starring Russell Crowe -- cast as another quirky scientist/scholar -- and Al Pacino is much more than the story of big tobacco whistlebower Jeffrey Wigand. It's more of a Wag the Dog meets All the President's Men meta-media commentary on the story-selection process at 60 Minutes. Along the way, the movie addresses the corporate complicity of TV networks such as CBS, the money big tobacco can bring to bear to quash criticism and legal action, and the role of journalist as hero. Pacino shines as producer Lowell Bergman, once a journalist for Ramparts who finds himself questioning his own corporate position as a serious story is slowed. Christopher Plummer's portrayal of Mike Wallace highlights the ego inherent in anchoring big-name news programs, and the interactions between the character Bergman and other journalists at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal offer a heartening inside look at the relationships between journalists. In the end, we're left with a view of journalists as rebellious truth tellers, corporate media lawyers and executives as complicit gatekeepers, and big tobacco as, well, big tobacco. Wigand, who is underwritten as the true hero of the tale, is almost left with a broken life -- a life nearly broken by the very media organization that initially encouraged him to step forward and into a limelight he never wanted.

The Net
Sandra Bullock is miscast as a female computer hacker who finds herself trapped in a web of political intrigue when she's hired to debug a CD-ROM. Outside of the movie's largely Speed-styled thriller sequences, the movie is especially notable for its portrayal of online technologies and interaction. The online chat -- complete with heavily pixellated icons and horribly computer-generated voices -- is a kick and a half, as is the scene in which Bullock's surprisingly beautiful antisocial character is "accepted" by others in a chat room just before she orders a pizza online. The rapid-fire, higher-quality security breach scenes in which Bullock's character and others gain access to various govenmental, financial, and corporate online services stands out in stark contrast, indicating that the technological grass may very well be greener on the corporate side of the fence. While the adventure-movie plot isn't that interesting, the internet-based paranoia and privacy/security concerns raised by the film -- The Net's point, really -- really don't hold water or pack a punch. Still, an interesting artifact from the early day's of the net's commercial and consumer emergence and acceptance.

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