Character actor Bruce McGill pops up in a wide range of movies and television varying from Animal House to MacGuyver to Star Trek Voyager to the upcoming Oliver Stone directed biopic W. I used to confuse him ever-so-slightly with another hefty character actor, Fred Dalton Thompson. A gaffe for sure, as Dalton almost always plays military/government types and Bruce McGill has a significantly wider range. He often appears in the films of Michael Mann. Rarely is he given the change to lay down the hurt like he gets to in this scene from The Insider.
Now Michael Mann‘s C.V., from Miami Vice to uh, well, Miami Vice (2006) has had one thing in common, stories about professional men doing their jobs with honor and passion. FBI profiler Will Graham and serial killer Hannibal Lector in Manhunter are both very skilled at what they do whether you like them or not. The same can be said for Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise in Collateral, or of tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand and CBS producer Lowell Bergman. The ‘villians’ in a Mann film are often the characters that are obstacles towards getting the job done moreso than raving lunatics; in the words of Ricky Roma, “clockwatchers and bureaucrats.” If Mann and had not previously collaborated with Al Pacino in Heat, I am certain that the actor’s turn in Glengarry Glenn Ross would have sold the director on casting him. Yet Mann is almost always generous with peppering his creations with a bevy of supporting players who get a scene or two to show off their characters’ competence. His films are not always just about the big name stars. But I digress.
Back to Bruce.
Much like McGill‘s solid turn in Collateral as an efficient and competent FBI agent, here he is a Mississippi lawyer fighting a near solitary fight (Colm Feore and Mike Moore are on wing-man duty, although silent in this scene) against Big Tobacco in his states courtroom. A small deposition on a case involving ex-tobacco corporate officer Jeffrey Wigand (a fidgety and energetic Russell Crowe) gets a lot of attention on what it can lead to in the court of public opinion and Wigand’s larger entry into the public record. Enough that there is a small army of Big Tobacco lawyers in the tiny courthouse (which by the way, was not a set, the real courthouse was used in the film). Respect, competence and furious anger ensue. Let it be a lesson not to fuck with due process.
The final framing of the scene is a close-up on McGill‘s face (a motif used extensively in The Insider as a way of getting the ‘measure of the man’) and he is almost smiling as he gets back to the business at hand of asking a witness a simple question. Perfect.