Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reel People: Matt Damon is Mark Whitacre

The film is The Informant, directed by Steven Soderbergh. The script is written by Bourne Ultimatum screenwriter Scott Z. Borne and is based of the non-fiction book with the same title by former New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald.

Mark Whitacre

Mark Whitacre was born in Morrow, Ohio in 1957. Whitacer lived in Morrow (just north of Cincinnati) through high school, where he was class president of his school in 1975. Whitacre attended Ohio State University, and went on to Cornell where he earned his PhD in 1983 with a degree in Nutritional Biochemistry. (Whitacre also earned two law degrees, including his Juris Doctor from Northwestern California University School of Law).

Whitaker married his wife Ginger in 1979, his high school sweetheart. She was an elementary school teacher.

After a variety of management jobs, Whitacre was hired at the age of 32 (1989) by Archer Daniels Midland's Bio Products Division, where Whitacre was president from 1989 to 1995. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a Fortune 500 company, is located in Decatur, Illinois a company that owns 270 plants world-wide specializing in the processing of cereal grains and oilseeds. By 1992, Whitacre was a Corporate Vice President and an officer for ADM.

Also in 1992, the FBI began investigating ADM for a possible case of corporate espionage, the case was found to be groundless but during this time Whitacre told the FBI that ADM was involved in a price-fixing scheme to control the cost of lysine, an amino acid often found in grains. It is said that Whitaker's wife threatened to go to the FBI herself if her husband did not tell them first.

Over the next three years Whitacre worked with the FBI to help record conversations of top execs and provide information necessary to call out the actions of ADM. ADM settled out of court paying over $100 million to the federal government and millions more to plaintiffs.

During this same period though, Whitacre also embezzled $9 million dollars, by setting up fake off shore companies and then paying fake invoices to these companies.

Whitacre's agreement as an information provider created conflict for the US Department of Justice because he had helped them collect information in the price-fixing case, but his embezzlement was a separate crime.

In 1998 Whitacre received a ten and a half year sentence for wire fraud, tax fraud, and money laundering. Many tried to support Whitacre in getting presidential pardon or early release.

After eight and a half years Whitacre was released from prison for good behavior.

After release from prison he was hired on as COO for technology company Cypress Systems Inc.

Two books were written about Whitacre: The Informant written by Kurt Eichenwald, which argues that while the sentence was steep, Whitacre's attempts to help were crucial, but they also often also muddled the FBI's case. In addition Eichenwald tries to outline motivations for the fraud, including a Nigerian scandal, as well as bio-polar behavior. The other book Rats In The Grain was written by lawyer James B. Lieber, who focuses on the trial of ADM and praises Whitacre as a whistle blower in a huge scandal.

The Informant

It's somewhat challenging to anticipate what this film will be like. Matt Damon is expected to deliver a strong performance, and his weight gain to portray Whitacre is sure to generate buzz and attention. Soderbergh's films and styles have unique and unpredictable tones and feels. The casting of this project supports the idea that this film will be a dark comedy, as it has been reported. The other principal cast members include comic actors as FBI agents: Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Murphy Brown), Joel McHale (host of The Soup), and Allan Havey (comic). Melanie Lynskey plays the part of Ginger, Whitaker's wife.

Matt Damon hasn't been nominated for an Oscar since his double nominations for Good Will Hunting more than 10 years ago. Will "Fatt Damon" and his portrayal of Mark Whitacre earn him critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?


Daniel said...

Sounds fascinating. I hope Soderbergh eases of the flair and lets Damon fully bloom.

Anonymous said...

Mark and Ginger are wonderful people who will always be remembered here in Morrow, Ohio as the Basketball Homecoming Queen and King who became known for a weird thing that happened to them. We will always love them.

Anonymous said...

Ginger and Mark Whitacre are loved by everyone here in Morrow, Ohio-their home town where they grew up. Our town stands by the true story of them, the recent Discovery Channel documentary, where several FBI agents called Mark a "national hero". Both Ginger and Mark are heroes to the local folks of Morrow.
The movie was just a Hollywood version of a tragic story.