The Informant! **** (out of ****)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Scott Z. Burns based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Eddie Jemison
Rating: R (language)
Running Time: 108 min
Release Date: 9/18/09

The Informant! is a comical look at the Federal price-fixing investigation of the Archer Daniels Midland corporation back in the 1990s and the role played by Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), ADM executive turned government informant. I say comical but it since it’s based on a true story one could also consider it to be a detective thriller. But, it plays more like a comedy in which the informant ends up with a sentence three times longer than the corporate executives that he brings down. As they say “no good deed goes unpunished.” Then again wait until you see this informant!

Whitacre is a scientist who has advanced to management ranks at ADM. But, his lysine project was loosing money at rate of seven million dollars per month. He tells management that he has a Japanese contact who claims to have a solution to the problem. There are also hints of possible sabotage and extortion. So ADM brings in the FBI rather than paying the money. When one sees the ultimate outcome of this caper, one questions if the Japanese contract ever existed.

Whitacre and his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) are troubled by their knowledge of a massive international price fixing scheme that ADM was leading. So Whitacre decides to blow the whistle on this management to the FBI with some prodding by his wife. Soon FBI agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Robert Herndon (Joel McHale) have Whitacre taping conversations of the price fixing meetings. At first Whitacre is somewhat reluctant. Eventually he even takes the initiative to induce the conspirators to make explicitly incriminating comments to strengthen the government’s case. Yet, once the arrests have been makes the plot takes a new twist. It seems that Whitacre has been embezzling millions from ADM while working for the FBI.

Soon the good guy has become the bad guy. Whitacre becomes the target of Federal prosecutors. He gets caught in one lie after another as the sum embezzled funds climbs. He claims that the money he took was done with the acknowledgement of his superiors at ADM. Finally in desperation turns on his former FBI handlers. The defense of mental illness is raised along with the possibility that his motivation was to decapitate the management ranks of ADM so that he would become the new CEO. None of this is resolved but it makes for an entertaining mystery.

Soderbergh and Damon have told a serious story about criminal conduct with campy comedy flourishes. It works to make what would otherwise be true but somewhat boring crime story entertaining. Given the web of deceit Whitacre weaves one begins to suspect that this all started with an attempt to save his job that spun totally out of control with disastrous consequences for everyone but the consumer.


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