Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Philip Baker Hall, I salute you

I was all set to go to bed at 11:45 last night when I caught the start of "The Insider," the 1999 masterpiece that earned seven Oscar noms and starred possibly my two favorite actors, Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Needless to say, I didn't get to bed until 2:30.

It's based on a true story about a "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino) who fights to keep his word to Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), an insider whose information about Big Tobacco threatens their jobs, the cigarette industry, and the lives of Wigand's family. I know I'm biased as a reporter, but it's an inspiration to journalists and other truth-seekers.

Pacino refrains from getting too shouty, as he's done too often since his Oscar-winning role in "Scent of a Woman." And if you want to celebrate Crowe's overblown Academy Award win for "Gladiator," fine, but I find him far more captivating in this role as a flawed, middle-aged, overweight scientist-turned-teacher.

The film's got a ton of cameos, including Gina Gershon, Stephen Tobolowsky and the impressive Christopher Plummer, who's a dead ringer for Mike Wallace in both look and air. Also holding his own is Philip Baker Hall (next to Pacino in this picture), with a somewhat unflattering portrayal of "60 Minutes" creator and shot-caller Don Hewitt.

Despite his dramatic turn in "The Insider," my favorite Hall role is from "Seinfeld," for which he played a New York Public Library detective by the name of Bookman. Without hyperbole, it's my favorite monologue in the show's history. It's so funny that it seems even Seinfeld laughs more than he should as it unfolds:

In reading the YouTube comments below the video, I got a kick out of knowing that someone uses Bookman's diatribe as an audition monologue. What a fantastic idea.


Rory B. Bellows said...

After hearing the "pee-pees and wee-wees" line, I'm reminded of another one of Hall's great roles: the child-molesting game show host in "Magnolia."