Aside from the Ocean's trilogy, Steven Soderbergh hasn't had a lot of success in recent years. Though some of his films were never going to make much money (Eros, Full Frontal), others, such as The Good German and Che, have failed to resonate as expected. Che, especially, had to be tough; an epic so grand that it had to be split into two parts, the $30-million movie was an instant flop and didn't even garner any Oscar attention. Thus, it was pertinent that his latest film - The Informant! - got off on the right foot. Matt Damon to the rescue!
Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, an executive who is well known for being the highest-level informant and whistleblower the United States has ever seen. The company he works for, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), is engaged in a major price-fixing scheme with its international competitors, and Whitacre teams with the FBI (represented by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) to bring them down. He goes on to gather more than 200 tapes worth of evidence, but his battle with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and some improprieties put him in the crosshairs as well.
Though based on a true story (specifically on the book by Kurt Eichenwald), Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns add a comedic slant, portraying Whitacre as an intelligent but off-note goofball who is incapable of fully telling the truth. Lie upon lie upon lie becomes standard, to the point where it's never clear what the truth is and what is not. Damon, who gained approximately 25 pounds for the role, runs around with a cheesy 90's moustache and wig, narrating to the camera random facts that have nothing to do with the story at hand. The FBI agents and Justice Department officials become increasingly frustrated with the man as more and more damaging facts are revealed, placing their investigation and integrity into question. Meanwhile, Whitacre never seems to be aware that his actions are indeed a problem.
The Informant! is not your typical comedy. In fact, it's a comedy that not everyone will like, and you have it to see it when in the right mood. For instance, don't see it when you're tired, because the movie can be slow at times. Don't see it if you're looking for a laugh-out-loud riot, because the movie will generally draw brief chuckles, nothing more. Do see it if you like high-brow, comedy-meets-drama-meets-thriller antics and strong acting performances.
The movie is good, but not that good. The story is interesting, the character compelling and the performance by Damon memorable, but it's not a movie that stands out in any particular way. Soderbergh's direction, combined with fanciful music by Marvin Hamlisch, is catchy, but also off-putting. The movie is so matter-of-fact, and at the same time off-the-wall, that it's hard to get swept along in the story. There are segments that are pretty slow, and the fact that it's a comedy without a lot of direct comedy leaves it drifting in a nether-genre where you can't decide whether you're enjoying yourself or bored out of your mind.
The Informant! is not for everyone, but who it is for it's hard to say. Hell, I'm not sure if it's even for me. The movie has its moments, and when all is said it's pretty well done, but it's so unconventional that it's challenging to just sit back and enjoy it from beginning to end. The second half is definitely better than the first, but Damon's excellent performance persists throughout. It's worth seeing, but will be better viewed on DVD, where you'll be able to determine pretty quickly whether the movie is right for you.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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