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Entries in Sleaze in the Cinema (12)


Sleaze in the cinema: In a world without the FCPA . . . . . 

Dear FCPA Blog,

Just a quick note of congratulations on hitting the 10-year mark --  quite a feat of endurance and undoubtedly one of the most influential journalism sites for business during this period.

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Sleaze in the cinema: The Big Short shows us how to teach compliance

I have made around 200 animated short videos for global compliance programs. Companies use animation because it makes sense to make training that is clear, enjoyable and broken down into bite-sized chunks.

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Sleaze in the cinema: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year is a film fraught with compliance and corruption issues. Without spoiling the intricate story line, I’d like to talk about some aspects of the movie I found fascinating.

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Sleaze in the cinema: The Serpent meets compliance and doesn't blink

A review of Margin Call in the New Yorker from October 2011 called it "easily the best Wall Street movie ever made." I agree. And while the entire cast is outstanding, Jeremy Irons's character -- John Tuld, the chair of an investment bank in distress on the first days of the 2008 financial meltdown -- is one of the most memorable movie performances I've ever seen.

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Who wears the American Hustle comb-over?

The American Hustle comb-over (on actor Christian Bale)An international flight finally gave me the opportunity to watch American Hustle. Make no mistake: This film is absolutely brilliant, and for those of us in the anti-corruption space, profoundly challenging.

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Sleaze in the Cinema: The Wolf at the compliance officer's door

It's astonishingly good news that after forty years of trial and error to develop the compliance profession, the law finally evolved to require both a new business “culture” and the compliance officer position to make this “culture” happen.  We should be the first to remind others and ourselves that this work is an historic opportunity. On the other hand, the challenges to “culture building” are present both inside and outside our companies.

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Kleptocracy On Camera: The Ambassador

The new film, 'The Ambassador,' recommended on the FCPA Blog and praised by 80% of the top film critics, is a gripping documentary about a kleptocracy and con artists.

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Sleaze In The Cinema -- The Ambassador

The distributor's release says The Ambassador 'exposes the corrupt business of selling diplomatic titles to exploit the lucrative and limited resources of war torn, third world nations.'

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Sleaze In The Cinema: Bollywood's Z

A Bollywood director is already planning a movie about India's grass-roots anti-graft campaign.

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Two Minute Warning

Boy, were we wrong. Syriana deserves our top rating of 5 Red Flags -- not as a movie, but as a compliance tool. A thoughtful reader set us straight. Our sincere thanks to Daniel, whose imaginative use of Syriana we heartily endorse.

Here's what he told us:

Dear FCPA Blog,


Very nice analysis of Syriana in response to the movie that at least this reader had called out, following your post entitled "Sleaze in the Cinema, Take One."  

In truth, the aspect of the movie I liked best is the original promotional trailer itself, of which I have shown a portion (after having received a license) at the start of anti-corruption compliance training to grab an audience's attention ("for three points, name the movie; for five points, name three actors you'll see; for fifteen points, recite the fifteen key words you'll hear in the voice over" and I then stop the trailer at the 1.25'' mark, after the oily Texas oilman's rich ["NOT"] assertion "... Corruption is why we win!").

I note that if Hollywood gave central casting to the FCPA in this 2005 movie, it surely is a sign of the importance of the issue. Of course, I make clear, as you have understood, that the movie is not reflective of the approach and experience today of most in the U.S. multinational business community - certainly, not of those in the company for which I work. Almost without fail, I am assured that the audience will then listen to the many legal and business imperatives for clear corporate policies and commitment to procedures on anti-corruption that follow.

Thus, while conceding that "five" may be too high a ranking given the film's dark and jaundiced take on corruption, I would award at least four red flags to a movie trailer that can accomplish this goal in less than 2 minutes. This is especially the case for an audience in the regulated pharmaceutical industry in which I practice, which today may suffer from "compliance fatigue" as a result of the virtually continuous training employees receive to address the many many different and evolving standards required to ensure that operations in a heavily regulated industry are conducted in a compliant manner.

The "enthusiastic support" you may have read into my singling out the movie was more for the educational values of both the trailer and your terrific blog - of which I am a devoted and appreciative reader, than for the underlying message of George Clooney's thriller.



Daniel Kessler




That's Milton Friedman?

Syriana is the best Hollywood movie ever made about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It's also the only Hollywood movie ever made about the FCPA. But despite enthusiastic support for the film by some of our readers, we can't give it top marks in our Sleaze in the Cinema category. Here's why.

While the movie takes on plenty of important themes -- the term Syriana is supposed to be Potomac shorthand for a political re-alignment of the Middle East -- it's unrelentingly cynical. Statecraft, spycraft, energy and military policy, the oil business -- all come off as dark and dirty to the core. There's no daylight anywhere, and that's the problem.

If you haven't seen the 2005 film, it's about lots of things. There's Bob Barnes (George Clooney), a CIA war horse thrown into a U.S. plot to remove a Middle East prince. The oil companies and U.S. government don't want the prince around because he's too independent. Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an oil broker helping the prince consolidate power. Then there's the Justice Department, busy reviewing a merger of two U.S. oil companies -- which is where the FCPA comes in. So the film has plenty going on.

As for the FCPA, it's thoroughly trashed. In a scene featuring an oily Texas oilman called Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson), he annihilates the rule of law:

. . . Corruption charges! Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win.
Well . . . baloney. Instead of the greedy evasiveness of Syriana, we've found that most American business people genuinely want to do the right thing. Sure, in the early days of the FCPA nearly everyone involved with it was upset. The law seemed vague and threatening and somehow unfair. Why should American companies have to keep it clean overseas when others could do whatever the heck they wanted? But the years passed and the FCPA started to make sense. Today (and Syriana takes place today) most American business leaders and the rank-and-file understand why graft anywhere is bad for everyone. They even talk and act as though they're proud of our global leadership in fighting public corruption.

Syriana is clever, raw, and disturbing. It's slick and sophisticated. The dialogue is edgy and gives the impression that you're eavesdropping on insiders. But the film is just too mean for our taste, and it's inconsistent with our experience in the world.

Although we're fans of Clooney, Damon and the FCPA, in the category of Sleaze in the Cinema, we give Syriana . . . 3 (out of 5) Red Flags.



Sleaze In The Cinema, Take One

Among the many great movies about public corruption, one of our favorites is "The Big Easy." Released in 1987, it's set in New Orleans -- the most unique (and least American) of all American cities. We were living in New Orleans when the movie came out, and our work involved compliance. So the film grabbed our interest as both entertainment and education.

"Half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment," former U.S. Representative from Louisiana, Billy Tauzin, once said. He's quoted in a recent Reuters story that also reports that since 2001, 213 officials and private individuals have been indicted in the state for corruption, and nearly all have been convicted. That's a big change from our time there. In the mid-1980s, we often talked with the FBI agent who'd been assigned to investigate political corruption in New Orleans and a couple of nearby parishes. The enormous amount of graft and the local tolerance of it made his task impossible. He looked exhausted and said the job had burned him out after a couple of completely unfruitful years.

Back in "The Big Easy," the characters are wonderfully realistic and offbeat. Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin are the heroes -- Barkin as a naive, hard-charging, self-righteous prosecutor from out of town, and Quaid as a local go-with-the-flow cop who becomes Barkin's reluctant helper. The large cast -- including Ned Beatty and John Goodman -- would be over the top if they weren't playing personalities from NOLA. Roger Ebert said in his August 1987 review, "All of these characters inhabit the most convincing portrait of New Orleans I've ever seen. The authentic local Cajun music on the soundtrack and the instinctive feel for the streets and alleys, the lives and the ways of doing business, the accents and the evasions, make the city itself a participant in what happens."

Our favorite character in the movie (and Ebert's too) is Lamar Parmentel, played by the late Charles Ludlam. He's a brilliant and bent defense lawyer with seersucker suits, wide-brim hats, a shrill voice and outrageous New Orleans elocution. Ebert called him "a cross between Truman Capote and F. Lee Bailey."

Great movies deal honestly with serious themes. "The Big Easy" shows lives ruined by public corruption and hints at other problems it causes -- poverty, high crime rates, a dysfunctional education system, sub-par health care, local courts that people don't trust, city services that don't serve, and a constant brain drain.

So in the category of Sleaze in the Cinema, we give "The Big Easy" our top rating -- 5 Red Flags.