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Vol. LXIII, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

I NEED A BETTER OFFICE!: Whistleblower Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) finally is able to find a safe place to record his observations about the price fixing scheme that is being hatched by his employer Archer Daniel Midlands and its competitors that, with the guidance of the FBI, Whitacre is trying to foil.

The Informant!: Damon Stars as a Whistleblower Who Also Deceived the FBI

Kam Williams

In 1992 Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was a highly regarded president of a division of Archer Daniel Midlands (ADM), an agri-business conglomerate headquartered in Decatur, Illinois. At that time he told his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), his misgivings about an international price fixing scheme he was helping to orchestrate on behalf of the Fortune 500 firm. At ADM the company’s motto was, “The competitors are our friends and the customers are our enemies,” which explains why it had entered into a conspiracy with its competitors to inflate the cost of the processed food additives it manufactured.

At his wife’s urging Whitacre contacted the FBI who asked him to cooperate in building an anti-trust case against ADM and the other participants. He agreed to spy for the Bureau, which made him the highest level corporate executive ever to become a whistleblower. Over the next several years he secretly gathered evidence by covertly taping hundreds of incriminating conversations with his colleagues.

FBI agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Robert Herndon (Joel McHale) were assigned to work with Mark. Unfortunately, the agents never did an extensive background check on Whitacre. As a result of their negligence, they didn’t find out, until it was too late, that Whitacre’s testimony was worthless in a Federal court.

Although his credentials, such as his degrees in biotechnology from Ohio State and Cornell University, may have been authentic, other aspects of his life were pure fabrication, such as his claim that he had been orphaned at three and subsequently adopted by a couple who owned an amusement park. It turned out that Mark Whitacre was not only a compulsive liar with delusions of grandeur, but also a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies.

To add insult to injury, at the same time that Whitacre was spying for the FBI, he was defrauding ADM of over $9 million. This deception left the FBI with egg on its face and Whitacre ultimately ended up serving more time in prison for his crime than did any of the perpetrators involved in the price fixing conspiracy.

Based upon the Kurt Eichenwald bestseller of the same name, The Informant has been adapted to the screen by Steven Soderbergh. Regrettably, the Oscar winning director (Traffic) turned what might have been a compelling corporate espionage thriller into a lighthearted romp that revolved around Whitacre’s cat-and-mouse relationship with the FBI’s incompetent agents who were assigned to handle him.

Matt Damon seems to be a poor choice for the role of the mentally unstable title character, who was a tragicomic figure who deserved a more sensitive portrayal than as an addlepated fuddy-duddy. Even more annoying is Marvin Hamlisch’s goofy retro score which sounds like it was borrowed from a sixties TV game show.

Sadly, what almost gets lost is the fact that, even without Whitacre’s inadmissible testimony, the government was able to convict several top executives and put an end to the price fixing scheme.

Instead, the audience is shown superficial cinematic folderol that gives the impression that ADM was the innocent victim of a smear campaign perpetrated by a larcenous and mentally unstable person.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity. Running time: 108 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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