The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed at The Riviera, Santa Barbara

Steven Soderbergh has managed once again to bring to the big screen an ordinary life that’s full of color and rich in character.  Unlike Erin Brockovich (2000) which was a drama with bits of humor thrown in, The Informant!  is upbeat, witty, and plays out like a dark comedy.  What makes it so comical are the many (mindless) voice overs we hear of Mark Whitacre’s thoughts – in the midst of intrigue, Mark thinks to himself how much he likes indoor pools, because of the visible steam they emit on cold days.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is  a pudgy, high-level executive at ADM nearing middle-age.  He convinces his boss that there is a mole within the company that is selling secrets to their Japanese competitors.  When the Japanese come calling and try to extort millions from the company, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) has no choice but to involve the FBI.  Enter special agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) who is given permission to tap Whitacre’s home phone, and once there, Whitacre confides to Shepard that the company has put into practice a price-fixing scheme, and is actually in cahoots with the Japanese and South Korean competitors.

There are constant twists and turns, and without giving too much of the plot away, one must have a keen ear for the voice overs, because not only are they ridiculously funny, they are also a vital clue into Whitacre’s thought process.  We indeed find out that Whitacre does not have a clean slate himself, as he has spun a web of lies that grow out of control.  He does have a heart and that is why the special agents stick by him.

Matt Damon portrays Whitacre as endearingly likable, despite his helpless buffoonery – he becomes the mid-western exec., gaining almost 30 lbs. for the role.  His subtle performance deserves a nod by The Academy.

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