The Informant!

Soderbergh and the Whistle Blower

         
 

18 September 2009| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Kind of sly and overall interesting but a tad too long and a tad too dry. In the new film The Informant! Matt Damon gets a mustache and a hair piece for his character, but he goes beyond the make-up to create a memorable two-faced character with compartmentalized layers. Director Steven Soderbergh invests his characteristic intelligence to the proceedings, but it’s his inappropriate directing ticks and run-ons that keep this from being an entirely successful film. This true story is set during the mid-90’s and based on a non-fiction bestseller by Kurt Eichenwald (unread by me but I wonder if it’s funny). See it mostly for Damon versatility.

Think about it. Damon is at his best when he is in disguise, not necessarily a hair and make-up disguise, but a disguise as to his true motives driving his actions. If you think about the characters he’s played, from Jason Bourne to Tom Ripley to Colin Sullivan (let us recall regretfully he was not Oscar nominated for “The Departed”), Damon is top drawer when he plays guys whose real selves are invisible to the world. In this film, Damon gets a mustache and a hair piece for his character but he goes beyond the make-up to create a memorably vexed character with compartmentalized layers. Damon is playing yet another one of those deceptive and secretive guys as Mark Whitacre, a vice president at ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), a corporation involved in corn flavoring in mass food products.

In “The Informant!” (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title), we learn that corn syrup and other corn-related extracts are used as additives in everything such as in tofu, in cola, and even select meat products especially persuasive in fast food chains. Whitacre becomes a whistle-blower who cooperates with the FBI not because ADM practices anything remotely controversial (corn flavoring is the American Way) but because ADM is responsible in price fixing.

While Scott Z. Burns script is often brilliant in terms of zingy dialogue and snack-worthy asides, there is never an in-depth analysis as to what price fixing actually is. But I’ll tell you in a nutshell. It’s when the Americans, and Japanese, and Swiss (well maybe, maybe not) get together in secret to price gouge the consumer with unjustified cost increases.

How about those asides and diversions with Whitacre? Throughout the film, Whitacre has blustery conversations with himself, heard in voice-over, that has nothing to do with what’s happening on-screen. Whitacre could be at an appointment with the FBI or producing contracts, and he will muse about what if they made a television show about a man who chases himself, or how about those Oscar de la Renta ties at discount outlets that are just diagonal stripes and little on creative design. The interior monologues are oddly comical, so unwired to the surface proceedings that it’s funny.

This might sound like an obscure reference, but Damon’s Whitacre character is akin to the method acting of Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Owning Mahoney” than to the former said film with Crowe. Here’s this Whitacre guy who cooperates with the FBI, gets his colleague in hot water by getting them to admit corporate misconduct on wiretap, but manages to lie to not only to ADM but the FBI.

What doesn’t make sense is Soderbergh’s peculiar aesthetic of 70’s movie cheesiness – the font type in the credits, the swirly romantic music by Marvin Hamlisch, the yellow-brown color palette. None of it feels like it truly belongs in this 90’s story. Nevertheless the film has a certain self-assured craft and Soderbergh as always is on top of his zig-zag narrative. But all the conference room meetings gets tiring by the third act, and it’s not impossible to wonder if the film could have wrapped up sooner than it does.

108 Minutes. Rated R.

HISTORICAL DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / SUNDAY NIGHT DRAMA

Film Cousins: “Norma Rae” (1979); “Silkwood” (1983); “Erin Brockovich” (2000); “The Corporation” (2003).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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