I was interested in seeing The Informant, Steven Soderbergh's new movie with Matt Damon for several reasons. The events it depicts, the whistle-blowing scandal of Mark Whitacre at the giant food processor, Archer Daniel Midland, located in Decatur, just 30 miles west from here, were familiar to me as an avid newspaper consumer. I have a soft spot for whistle blowers, having represented several of them in the course of my work as a lawyer, and I know how difficult life can be for them.
Whistle blowers, almost by definition, are misfits, odd ducks who do not fit in to standard corporate culture. The people who fit in do not blow whistles because they are too comfortable. Whitacre was the archtypical whistle blower, a brilliant scientist, a congenital liar whose motives for blowing the whistle on ADM were so mixed with self-interest that they were impossible to sort out.
It turns out Whitacre was stealing from ADM, how much even he couldn't keep straight. In the middle of his lies, he wound up turning in ADM for price fixing and courageously wearing a wire at work to get the evidence. But, ironically, Whitacre was sentenced to more time in prison for his larceny of millions than the top ADM executives ever served for their stealing of billions from American consumers through price fixing.
Steven Soderbergh, the director of The Informant, made the iconic whistle blower movie with Erin Brokovich in 2000. In many ways, The Informant is better than Brokovich in that it paints the various protagonists in more realistic shades of gray, than the black and white of a righteous woman up against a corrupt corporation. For the same reason, the movie is less satisfying. There is less emotional release when the movie does not delineate who the good guys and the bad guys are and it is less certain that good prevailed in the end.
As good as Damon is, however, I would always rather watch Julia Roberts with her perky good looks and push up bra, so between the two Soderbergh whistle-blowing movies, I would have to rate Brokovich higher. Not to mention that the whistle-blower's lawyer comes off much better in Brokovich than the doofus from Taylorville in Informant.
I gave the movie four stars out of a possible five, meaning it is above average, but not brilliant.