Release Date: September 18, 2009
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel
McHale, Melanie Lynskey, and
Audience: Older teenagers to adults
Runtime: 108 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Executive Producer: George Clooney, Jeff Skoll,
and Michael London
Producer: Michael Jaffe, Howard
Raunstein, Kurt Eichenwald,
Gregory Jacobs, and Jennifer
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Address Comments To:Jeffrey L. Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner
Barry M. Meyer, Chairman/CEO
Alan Horn, President/COO
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (New Line Cinema)
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Phone: (818) 954-6000
Matt Damon does an incredibly good job of playing Mark Whitacre, a Ph.D. biologist and rising business star at agricultural giant Archer Daniel Midlands. Based on a true story, the movie opens with Mark facing an unknown biological problem that’s destroying their lysine corn derivative and thus costing ADM millions of dollars. Lysine is their new corn derivative product that causes shrimp, cows, chickens, and other animals to grow faster. For instance, a chicken that takes nine months to mature will mature in six months. Throughout the movie, Mark has wild, disconnected thoughts about the different ways that corn derivatives are used in almost every food product.
Mark tells his immediate boss that he’s had a phone call from a competitor in Japan who says there’s a mole in the company infecting the lysine. For $10 million, the Japanese contact will reveal the mole and give them the antidote. Mark’s boss decides to call in the FBI. The FBI comes out to Mark’s beautiful mansion, where he keeps his eight exotic cars and is building his new octagonal stable to wiretap Mark’s phone. Mark’s wife, Ginger, tells Mark to tell the FBI agent Brian Shepherd the complete story. Mark reveals to Shepherd that ADM is involved in international price fixing. To corroborate his story of international corporate corruption, Brian equips Mark with a hidden tape recorder. Soon, the case grows into gigantic proportions involving Japanese, German and American agri-business. However, at one point it is revealed that not everything is as it appears.
Based on a true story, the details of what happened to Mark Whitaker are easy to find in articles in FORTUNE, FORBES and the WALL STREET JOURNAL as well as in the book by the same name as the movie written by Kurt Eichenwald. Basically, this is a story of a psychopathic liar who lies about everything and hurts a lot of people in the process. The lying covers up embezzlement that goes from $2 million to $5 million to $7 million to $11 million. Years later, nobody knows how much.
Steven Soderbergh is so concerned about capturing the truth of the story that he shot in Mark’s house as well as at the actual locations with a minimal crew using the Red camera. All that he had to do in these real locations to establish authenticity was to re-decorate or restore the 1990s look to the locations. He notes that going to Mark’s mansion with the Ferraris, Porsches and stables should have set bells ringing in the FBI agent’s mind. Instead, the government got deeply involved in what became one of the famous cases of all time.
The fact of the matter is, this movie is surprisingly not anti-capitalist. Rather, the villain is the sinfulness of man whose desire for fame and fortune drives him to lie, hurt and steal. At one point while watching this movie, it almost appeared that it was going to transcend the normal Hollywood entertainment and actually define the human character trait of lying just as Erich Von Stroheim’s famous movie GREED defined greed 95 years earlier.
However, once the reveal occurs, then the movie almost becomes monochromatic. There seems to be no character arc. The lying persists, and without growth, transition, improvement, or redemption, the movie starts to appear long and tedious.
One can only hope that those who see THE INFORMANT! expecting a tirade against capitalism will have their hearts open and perhaps broken by the truth it reveals about the sinful nature in every man and woman. Regrettably, the movie’s foul language puts it out of bounds for younger audiences. Older audiences may be convicted by it, however.
The movie calls itself a dark comedy; the cast is full of comedians rather than actors; but, the stark reality of the story is not very funny, and the ending doesn’t give viewers much hope. Even so, this is an important movie and Matt Damon should be commended for tackling a part that completely destroys his heroic image. People think playing a pimp or a prostitute is acting, but this role required real acting that is worth the price of admission.
THE INFORMANT! is a well-produced, well-acted, important movie with a brilliant performance by Matt Damon. The stark reality of the story is not very funny, and the ending doesn’t give viewers much hope. Even so, this is an important movie about the sinful nature of man as manifested in lying, embezzlement and greed. It’s a bit relentless and hopeless, however, and includes strong foul language that requires extreme caution.