The Informant! (2009)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt
Plot: The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation, based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre.
Genre: Comedy / Crime / Drama
Awards: Nom. for 2 Golden Globes - Best Leading Actor (Comedy/Musical), Best Original Score.
Rating: NC16 for language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Steven Soderbergh’s easy-going and quirky take on an unbelievably true story about Mark Whitacre and his exploits to expose his company’s unlawful methods to cheat consumers of their money may not be one of the year’s best pictures, but it is a film which ends the decade in similar fashion to how he started it with the lovable Erin Brockovich (2000). The Informant! shares several themes with the Julia Roberts vehicle, most notably the one on “the thinking civilian versus the evil corporation”.
Starring Matt Damon who puts on weight for his role as Mark, The Informant! dwells into the psyche of Mark as he rages war with the heads of his company, the FBI, and the law with his brand of lies and half-truths, or maybe he is telling the truth. It is impossible to separate fact from fiction in this sneaky tale of deceit and mind games.
Damon could be nominated for his second acting Oscar (after Good Will Hunting, 1997) if this picture gains momentum from clever marketing or the Soderbergh brand name. His performance is highly engaging, and he eases into a non-action role with the confidence of seasoned drama veteran.
The screenplay can be described as snaking with many twists and turns as Damon’s character pleasurably frustrates us with his all too convoluted plan of double-crosses and what not. The key word here is “pleasurably”. It is without doubt, an intelligent screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, one which keeps us at the edge of our seats (in the mental-stimulating sense). Is Mark too clever for his own good? Or is he just plain stupid?
Besides being a light-hearted character piece, The Informant! is also a “serious spy parody” during most of the film’s scenes involving Mark working for the FBI to bring down his company’s board of directors. Hilarious moments ensue as he finds it mentally-straining to cope with ‘spy work’ especially when he is not trained for the job.
This creates a dual personality in Mark – one trying to help the FBI to dig deeper into a possible international conspiracy involving price-fixing, and the other trying to dig a way out of the same FBI investigation in which he may be a possible suspect.
Soderbergh keeps The Informant! upbeat by accompanying the visuals to jazzy and cheezy music by the great Marvin Hamlisch, a throwback to the 1970s expressive style and the screwball comedies of the silent era. The Informant! leaves a smile on the face not because it is outstanding filmmaking but because its story is the epitome of incredulity. Not one of Soderbergh’s best works, but it is a respectable effort nonetheless.
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