Working at the lysine development company ADM, Mark Whitacre serves as the president of the BioProducts division. One day, he goes to his boss to identify a problem with extortion from a Japanese partner, which leads to the involvement of the FBI. Agent Shepard meets with Mark both in the office and privately at his home, starting a new relationship which leads to Mark becoming their secret informant to uncover evidence of the scandal which grows from extortion to price fixing to embezzlement. His employers continue to resist any continued involvement from the FBI, leaving Mark as the only source of information for the investigation. As the process continues, the number of lies continues to grow with it and there develops a growing concern for the intentions and truthfulness Mark has brought to the table.
Starring: Matt Damon (Mark Whitacre), Lucas McHugh Carroll (Alexander Whitacre), Eddie Jemison (Kirk Schmidt), Rusty Schwimmer (Liz Taylor), Tom Papa (Mick Andreas), Rick Overton (Terry Wilson), Melanie Lynskey (Ginger Whitacre), Scott Bakula (FBI Brian Shepard), Scott Adsit (Sid Hulse), Ann Dowd (FBI Kate Medford), Allan Harvey (FBI Dean Paisley), Joel McHale (FBI Bob Herndon), Howie Johnson (Rusty Williams)
Matt Damon is truly fantastic in this film. While his character continues to lie at every turn and play the different agencies against each other, he appears to truly seem honest in each of his interactions. Until the lies start to conflict with each other and go to the extreme, the FBI believes he knows something, his wife believes he is in danger and the company believes he is conducting business as usual. Scott Bakula serves as the trusting agent who slowly sees through the guise that Damon puts on. While there was wrongdoing discovered through the investigation, Damon’s character became just as guilty in the criminal activities. Bakula is able to show this discovery while others continue to fall into his trap. Besides the two big players, the cast includes a list of both dramatic and comedic starts that stretch their talents to combine both genres, including Joel McHale from Talk Soup.
Steven Soderbergh put together a true gem in this transformation of a true story. The real life Whitacre was brought forward on charges of wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering and price fixing, leading him to a 10-year sentence (which got reduced to 8.5 with good behavior). His company ADM was hit so much harder, with penalties of hundreds of millions of dollars (with at least $400 million specifically in high-fructose corn syrup). The executives, on the other hand, were each only hit with 3 years of jail time. Whitacre had been pushed into this whole process by a combination of the pressure of knowing the price fixing was occurring and his wife’s plea to get the authorities involved. He has been identified as one of the most famous and successful informants in the history of US law, though he was also found embezzling over $9 million. His actual amount was never truly identified.
This film is quirky, fun and confusing (but in a good way). With a lightheartedness provided through the music and the banter from Damon, knowing the story does not actually guarantee that you know how it will all play out.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5