Insurance isn’t the most obvious subject matter for a riveting, pulse-pounding movie experience is it? With Cedar Rapids now in cinemas we look at the best movies with insurance agents at their core…
Have you ever actually even read any of your insurance contracts? Do you avoid speaking to insurance sales people in the same way you dodge guilt-inducing calls from your mother?
So if the topic is such a (wait for it) ‘liability’, why then is Hollywood perpetually drawn to insurance and its peddlers as ‘premium’ plot devices for its movies? The latest vehicle to hedge its bets on the theme is Cedar Rapids (out April 29th), starring ‘The Office’ and ‘The Hangover’ funny-man Ed Helms as a sad-sack insurance agent whose small world is opened up when he is picked to represent his company as a convention in the titular Iowa town.
Perhaps the plot of Cedar Rapids gives us a clue as to why insurance is such an attractive option for screenwriters and storytellers: it’s seen as grey and boring, and, so, by implication, are its practitioners. Therefore, these characters are capable of great transformation within a two hour timeframe: they could either be driven to corruption and/or insanity by the drudgery of the job, or find themselves blossoming once they get a glimpse of life outside the world of adjustments and risk assessments.
To that end, let’s take an appraisal of some of the best movies with insurance agents at their core. Are these the best-written under-writers yet seen on the big screen?
*Double Indemnity (1944):
Insurance hack Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) is drawn into a scam with sultry desperate housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) where in he’ll off her husband and make it look like an accident in order for her to double her life insurance payout. Needless to say it ends up going as pear-shaped as femme fatale Phyllis’ rear end.
Sample quote: “I killed him for money – and a woman – and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”
Leonard (Guy Pearce) is an insurance investigator suffering from anterograde amnesia, meaning the person can’t store any recent memories. This makes life quite tricky for Leonard as he is trying to piece together the circumstances of his wife’s murder with the help of tattoos and Polaroids. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Moriarty Tribunal took similar steps in its epic 14-year investigation.
Sample quote: “I meet Sammy through work. Insurance. I was an investigator. I’d investigate the claims to see which ones were phony. I had to see through people’s bullshit. It was useful experience, because now it’s my life.”
*The Rainmaker (1997):
Rosy-cheeked cherubic law grad Rudy (Matt Damon) tries to take on a corrupt insurance company with the help of Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), an ethically questionable ex-insurance assessor turned failed paralegal. But big bad lawyer Job Voight is also on hand to stop any lawsuit in its tracks – and he wasn’t afraid to take on Anacondas and Jennifer Lopez, so Matt’n’Danny are right to be nervous.
Sample quote: “You know what a Rainmaker is, kid? The bucks are gonna be falling from the sky.”
*About Schmidt (2002):
Retired insurance actuary – and recent widower – Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is going through an existential crisis and so decides to take a road trip to see his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) in order to talk her out of marrying waterbed salesman Randall (Dermot Mulroney). The film is most famous for a scene where Kathy Bates gets naked in a hot tub in an attempt to seduce Jack. Apologies, I must now ring my own insurance company as my laptop just exploded from typing that sentence.
Sample quote: “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?”
*Fight Club (1999): The nameless narrator (Edward Norton) works investigating insurance claims for a car company, and suffers from jet lag-induced insomnia as a result. He seeks solace in various self-help groups before he meets charismatic soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who introduces him to the world of underground fist-fighting. That’s probably all I should reveal about the plot, but for those who haven’t yet seen the movie, step away from the computer and bang your head off the wall 10 times and/or until you pass out. What have you been doing for the past decade? You make me sick. Anyway, when you come to, watch Fight Club very, very closely.
Sample quote: “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
*The Incredibles (2004):
What happens when one-time superheroes are shunned and forced to seek regular employment? They become insurance brokers in soul-destroying offices like hulking Bob Parr (aka Mr Incredible, voiced by Craig T Nelson), working for nasal weasel Gilbert Huph, who continually lectures Bob for helping clients find loopholes to win their claims. When Huph stops Bob from stopping a mugging outside on the street, the superhero sends his boss ploughing through four walls. Insurance agents everywhere stand up in the cinema and cheer, knocking popcorn all over their grey suits.
Sample quote: [Huph]: “We’re supposed to help our people! Starting with our stockholders, Bob! Who’s helping them out, huh?”
Honorable mentions: To Catch a Thief, The Fortune Cookie, Along Came Polly, Sicko, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (first chapter)