It’s always pretty much been an open secret that FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) is a rampantly corrupt organization. But when Qatar – a country that boasts temperatures upwards of 120 degrees during the summer – won the host award for the 2022 World Cup, it was pretty obvious some serious bribery was taking place. Now a number of FIFA officials have been arrested, the next two host awards are under investigation, ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner hilariously cited an Onion article in his defense, and Sepp Blatter (President of FIFA) was inexplicably re-elected and subsequently resigned. Its all still unfolding, but one thing is imminently clear: this is going to make an awesome movie someday. After all, true stories are often stranger and more incredible than anything that can be imagined, and corruption always runs deeper than most of us might hope. The following six movies are proof that real life greed and corruption makes for great cinema.
This story of an honest New York cop who uncovers corruption within the police force is one of Al Pacino’s first starring roles, earning him his first Academy Award nomination for best actor in a leading role. During the course of the film, Serpico encounters bribery, extortion, violence, and theft perpetrated by his fellow officers. When he refuses to take part, he finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations engineered by his co-workers and constant push back from his superiors when he reports the corruption. When this movie came out, these events had all been reported fairly recently (although the story takes place over twelve years) and were very fresh in the public’s mind. This film brought Frank Serpico international fame far beyond the transient local headlines of New York.
If you saw American Hustle, you might have thought that the plot was somewhat convoluted and confusing. That is, of course, because the FBI’s Abscam sting operation on which it is based was just as incomprehensible. Aside from any questionable participants in this sting operation, the investigation was aimed at corrupt politicians who were accepting bribes in return for political favors. In the movie, some of the politicians don’t seem so bad, while some of the law enforcement officials seem buffoonish, greedy, and over ambitious. Bradley Cooper’s Ritchie DiMaso, one of the agents leading the investigation, feels a little sleazy and unethical, while Jeremy Renner’s Mayor Carmine Polito seems like a genuinely good man trying to do his best for the people in his community. It’s certainly an unusual role reversal when it comes to films about corruption to blur the lines between sides.
This was a weird, quirky film by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon as the title character, the informant Mark Whitacre. It is based on the true story of an FBI investigation into price-fixing at a big agro company. Whitacre went from upper management in this company to being an insider spy for the FBI. While the investigation seems to be going well at first, it quickly becomes apparent that Whitacre is becoming unstable – manic, manipulative, deceptive, and delusional. It later turns out that Whitacre embezzled $9 million dollars from his company while cooperating with the FBI and that his bizarre behavior was partly a result of untreated bi polar disorder. Ironically, the person who helped uncover a huge number of white-collar crimes went to prison three times longer than those he helped convict. The movie is hugely funny, with Damon wonderfully portraying a complex and compulsive man.
While this film is mostly about the interconnected lives of two men on opposite sides of the law – Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) as an incorruptible cop and Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) as a principled businessman in the heroin trade – it ends up also being about the incredible corruption found within the NYPD during this time. The film does an amazing job at comparing these two men, their lives, their ideals, and ultimately bringing them together – first as adversaries and then as partners. Lucas is plagued by blackmail and extortion from corrupt cops looking for a cut of the heroin profits, which gives him a lot of inside knowledge that eventually helps Roberts bring a lot of dirty cops to justice. Lucas helped in the conviction of over 100 other people. Interestingly, when Lucas was later arrested for dealing in drugs in 1984, Roberts – having opened a private practice as a defense attorney – acted as his lawyer.
This is the strange story of how the LAPD reunited the wrong missing boy with a mother and then – despite the mother’s adamance that the boy wasn’t her son – insisted that the mother must be hysterical. This Clint Eastwood film atmospherically reproduces the 1920s time period and features a wonderful performance by Angelina Jolie as the distraught mother Christine Collins. It seems impossible that a woman would say a boy wasn’t her son and not be believed, but that’s exactly what happened in 1928. Not only were her protestations ignored, but she was eventually admitted to a psychiatric hospital for observation and accused of trying to shirk her motherly responsibilities. Basically, though, the LAPD was under extreme pressure to end the Collins case happily, so rather than owe up to their embarrassing mistake, they tried to coerce a woman into accepting a child who was not her own.
All the President’s Men
We all know about Richard Nixon, the Watergate scandal, and all those recorded conversations he had at the White House. It’s one of the biggest instances of governmental corruption in history, encompassing the Nixon administration’s involvement in break-ins, illegal wire tapping, harassment of activist groups, and a number of other abuses of power – so of course it makes for great cinema. While the events of this movie revolve around the Watergate scandal and governmental corruption, its really all about the journalistic investigative team of Woodward and Bernstein, who covered a great deal of the emerging story for the Washington Post. In the era of the decline of newspapers and the advent of the blog, this story about the golden age of reporting might seem a little nostalgic now – and there is certainly something distant, glamorous, and unreachable about it. All the President’s Men was actually made not too long after the Watergate business, in a time when journalism and newspapers were very much still a thing. And while there’s no doubt that the movie glams up the business for dramatic purposes, it is probably mostly time that has made that kind of journalism seem so idealistic and magical.