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10 Best Compliance Films of All Time

Here are our ten favourites of brilliant productions that deal with issues of whistleblowing, ethics and corruption.

EQS Editorial Team EQS Editorial Team

    It is more about staying in than going out at the moment. Which means more time for films and TV! Make the screen your friend this year and catch a whole host of brilliant productions that deal with issues of whistleblowing, ethics and corruption. Here are our ten favourites.

    1. Snowden

    Perhaps one of the most famous whistleblowers of our age, Edward Snowden (played in this film brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) subcontractor who leaked information about illegal mass surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 to the press. The film is a fantastic portrayal of Snowden wrestling with his conscience over what he is being asked to do by his employer versus what he believes to be right. The film ultimately praises Snowden’s decision but the viewer is left in no doubt the high price he paid for his actions.

    2. Official Secrets

    Keira Knightly plays Katharine Gun, a translator working for UK listening service GCHQ who in 2003 leaked a US National Security Agency memo to the press. The memo asked GCHQ staff to help spy on members of the UN Security Council so they could be pressured into supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq. When her superiors find out who blew the whistle (she eventually confesses – cue many tense scenes where Gun is torn seeing her superiors question her colleagues), she faces being charged with the UK Official Secrets Act. The film ultimately has a happy ending, but the story focuses mainly on the heavy cost of Gun’s actions and the lengthy legal battle she goes through trying to clear her name.

    3. Erin Brockovich

    After two utility employees blow the whistle on their employers Pacific Gas and Electric for water poisoning, desperate single mum and law firm employee Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts) takes up the case with the gusto. She eventually secures justice for the families affected: the class-action lawsuit was eventually settled for more than US$330 million, the largest direct action settlement in US history. While made in 2000, this film doesn’t age – in fact it shows more than ever the valuable contribution whistleblowers make to the pursuit of justice.

    4. The Informant!

    Perhaps a comedy lesson in how not to be a whistleblower. Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a high-ranking yet bumbling employee at US biotech conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland who blew the whistle on the company’s price fixing tactics in the early 1990s. When Whitacre agrees to go undercover for the FBI to gather information against his own employer, he winds up exposing mostly his own misdemeanours. At the end of this slapstick film the viewer is reminded that this was a real case which did not end well for Whitacre – his superiors were sentenced to three years in prison whereas Whitacre himself, despite his FBI collusion, served nine.

    5. The Laundromat

    This film tells the story of the now-defunct offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca and the tricks they designed to horde, hide and launder the fortunes of the very rich, and the everyday people affected by this company’s corporate crimes. In one story, Meryl Streep’s Ellen Martin loses her husband in a boating accident but is unable to collect insurance payments because the boat company’s liability coverage came from a fraudulent shell company. In another, an intermediary, who launders money for wealthy Chinese using a shell company Mossack owns, meets an untimely death after pressuring his clients for higher payments. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The message of the film is clear: hiding wealth and laundering money has consequences.

    6. Dark Waters

    Based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, 2019 legal thriller Dark Waters dramatises an attorney’s tenacious stand against chemical company DuPont who have been poisoning a town’s water supply. It focuses on real life events that occurred in West Virginia where the company’s improper disposal of toxic waste including perfluorooctanoic acid was linked to severe birth defects and a host of illnesses including cancer. As attorney Robert Bilott battles one of the most powerful organisations in the country and one of the world’s best-known brands, the film showcases corruption, irresponsibility and cover-ups that are shocking in scale.

    7. Margin Call

    This financial thriller is set at a Wall Street investment firm over a 24-hour period during the initial stages of the financial crisis. As it looks like the firm’s downfall is imminent, the viewer is taken on a riveting rollercoaster ride as the key players make major decisions in an attempt to avoid disaster. While many of them are of course financial in nature, the questions have to encompass a degree of morality if the firm has any chance of survival. Amid all the panic, double-checking and uncertainty, the film is an exciting showcase of greed, loyalty, morality and, ultimately, decency.

    8. The Wolf of Wall Street

    The hugely entertaining, funny and true story of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo Di Caprio), a Wall Street stockbroker in New York in the 1980s who goes from innocent trader to major securities fraudster with his very respectable-sounding company Stratton Oakmont. Eventually the FBI comes knocking. Belfort’s depraved lifestyle and idiot colleagues provide the laughs but the film ends showing Belfont’s downfall in all its glory.

    9. Bad education

    The fascinating tale of Dr Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a dedicated and hugely successful school superintendent for the village of Roslyn on Long Island, USA. All the time his school is topping the league tables, Frank is embezzling millions of dollars. When the school newspaper starts investigating financial irregularities, the case against Frank and his team gradually mounts up: a private home renovation paid for by the school construction project, annual expenses paid to mysterious front companies set up by Frank himself and first-class air tickets financed by public funds. The film epilogue reveals that Frank and his team embezzled a total of $11 million, the largest school theft in American history. Frank himself served four years in prison for his crimes.

    10. Syriana

    This film features four interlocking storylines whose characters’ lives are interwoven by the world’s most desired and demanded resource – oil. A CIA agent (George Clooney) goes rogue after uncovering uncomfortable truths about his employer, an energy analyst for an oil power brokerage firm (Matt Damon) faces a huge family tragedy and finds redemption in his partnership with an idealistic Gulf prince, a lawyer faces a moral dilemma as he finesses the questionable merger of two huge oil companies and a young Pakistan-born oil worker loses his job in a large oil refinery and, faced with extreme poverty and a charismatic cleric, executes a suicide attack. This film certainly demands your attention but it is worth it – it features one of the most scurrilous defences of corruption we have ever seen and will leave you asking all sorts of questions about corruption, conspiracy and control.

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    EQS Editorial Team
    EQS Editorial Team

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