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