“The Informant!”                      
                        In “The Informant!”, Mark Whitacre, Ph.D. (Matt Damon) was a chemical engineer for agri-business giant ADM in the early 1990’s.  He helped make a food additive named lysine, and slowly became aware that the top executives of his company were engaged in price-fixing their additive, in a stunningly widespread conspiracy with other international firms based in other countries.
            What to do?  Look the other way and just keep doing your job helping to make the product?  Ask in on the action, and learn how to create offshore accounts to hide the embezzling?  Or be the unpopular whistleblower and go to the feds?  Actually, Whitacre tried all three, at times simultaneously (the fact that he was later diagnosed as bipolar may have had something to do with his internal inconsistency).  He connects with FBI agents who supply him with “wires” on his person and on his phones.  Whitacre winds up going undercover for three full years, collecting an amazing volume of evidence against his “higher ups.”  But the pressure starts to get to him.
            The FBI discovers that Whitacre has informed a few selected associates about the impending sting.  Then they learn that he has continued to participate in the payoffs, and siphoned undetermined amounts of money to (then-inaccessible) offshore accounts. (He claims that this helped insure that the executives would not get suspicious of him.)  Whitacre apparently suffers under the self-indulgent delusion that when all the smoke has cleared, the FBI will sweep away those “bad guys” and then he will be elevated to run the company. (So Whitacre is motivated by breaking the 10th commandment, greed, not by keeping the 9th, false witness?)  His wife remains supportive throughout (which also makes her complicit in the money-laundering, but somehow she remains immune from prosecution). 
            The feds (now including the Justice Department, who will prosecute the case) now feel that they’ve been duped, and go after Whitacre himself.  They even wonder if he fabricated, or helped generate, the whole price-fixing scheme, in order to eliminate the others and elevate himself.  He keeps claiming he’s done everything they’ve asked, and has been the good guy in all of this.  By the end, this nerdy chemical engineer has them all guessing, including his lawyers, first company-appointed, then independent, then some shyster-looking personal injury attorney who looks like maybe he’s being played, also.
            Ah, what a complex web we weave.  The mood of this film is curiously lighthearted, perhaps to offset the heavy subject material.  Whitacre keeps supplying us with voiceovers about random facts, like the behavior of polar bears.  The background music sounds like something out of a 50’s sitcom, like we’re all in for watching the silly foibles of fallible humans.  The G-men seem more like bureaucrats than lawmen, and their lawyers act more like internal affairs investigators than high-powered litigates.  Whitacre, seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin, makes us uncomfortable around him, as well, and at the end we’re still not sure if he’s a good guy or not.
            So, without anybody to really root for in this ironic drama, we viewers have to be content with being amused at the intricacy of this sorta-kinda true story.  And we are.  But that’s hardly enough to make “The Informant!” a great movie.  Just a curious one.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas