The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at The Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA.

The InformantDirector Steven Soderbergh has chosen to take a peculiar approach to his latest effort about the highest ranking whistle blower in U.S. history, Mark Whitacre, who assisted the F.B.I. in accumulating evidence against his employer, A.D.M., for price fixing. The Informant abandons all seriousness, embracing ridiculous, nonsensical babble and a bumbling, almost slapstick approach in going all out for laughs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but Soderbergh has at least made another interesting and positive contribution to an ever impressive career.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a top exectutive at A.D.M., decides to come clean to the F.B.I. about the price fixing of the food additive lysine that his company has been doing with several overseas competitors. He becomes their inside man, accumulating hundreds of hours of tape on his bosses and their associates and ultimately making their case. However, his own improprieties and an ever growing web of lies shift the focus on him.

Though the film is set in the early nineties the exaggerated music, Damon’s moustache, Damon’s suits, and the mildly desaturated cinematography along with some garish title cards give the film a strong seventies look and feel to it. Right from the beginning Soderbergh’s choices seem to throw us off a bit announcing his intentions for us not to take any of this seriously. However, because the film is based on a true story, some of the true consequences and situations don’t lend themselves easily to the joke.

The screenplay by Scott Burns has more depth than it first appears to have as Whitacre constantly spouts seemingly irrelevant, wandering thoughts that reveal more and more of his mind frame as the film goes on. By the time you realize how relevant these little asides really are you wish you had paid closer attention. It is this that will ultimately tease you into a second viewing.

Matt Damon gives his best performance in many years, capturing the innocent, delusional qualities of Whitacre while making him both exasperating and likable. Scott Bakula and Talk Soup host Joel McHale play their F.B.I. roles straight to Damon’s ridiculous, bumbling Whitacre, a combination that succeeds very well.

The film’s score by Marvin Hamlisch is the film’s main hindrance, pushing the absurdity too far and becoming more of a distraction than a compliment to the film’s images.

Ultimately, the film comes off as made in good fun, but nothing to take too seriously. It is the people involved with the film rather than the film itself that will ensure it does not drift into obscurity as it will ultimately be best remembered as one of Damon’s better performances and an above average Soderbergh film.

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