Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Warner Bros. Pictures, 2009
By Brian Last
Director Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon team up for what seems like the umpteenth time for Soderbergh’s latest white-collar-crime drama/comedy. Mark Whitacre (Damon) is the vice president of ADM, a company that has developed a product called lysine. He takes it upon himself to tip off the Feds (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) about a global price-fixing scandal that ADM has put themselves right in the middle of. What starts out as a simple tip-off turns into two-and-a-half years as their informant, living two lives and lying his face off.
We begin with what appears to be a man of strong convictions pursuing his earnest goal to do what is right. But this is in fact the story of a man who has let his greed take over. Whitacre builds up so many lies that they eventually collapse on him and he becomes public enemy #1. His ambitions to be president of the company blind him and lead to delusions about himself and where he is going in his life.
I found the story to be a tad jumpy at times and cluttered at others. Watching it, I actually felt like Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns would write themselves into a corner and then throw tons of dialogue at the film in an attempt to get out of it — but I just felt cornered and it gave me a headache. There was also nothing visually exciting to help further the plot, not even Soderbergh staples, just a basic storytelling process. I also found the music to be a bit much; it made the movie seem really goofy, like it was a Looney Tunes cartoon. When it did work, it was because Damon’s character was so strange that the music matched his personality.
In spite of its length, and the cluttered nature of the writing, I enjoyed the film and it was all because of Matt Damon. He was very likeable and funny in this role, and you never knew where he was going or what he was going to do. You start off really rooting for him because Damon makes you buy into his story just like everyone else, and you believe he really is acting in good faith. But by the end you can’t help but laugh at and be exasperated by the ludicrous things that come out of his mouth and how he piles lies on top of lies. Also, some of the stunts he tries to pull to get out of trouble or to deflect blame onto other people, and how he tries to drag everyone else down with him, are just hilarious and ridiculous. I also enjoyed Damon’s narratives: some are pertinent to the plot, many are just the ramblings of a dolt, but they were always funny.
The best movie that I can compare this to is Burn after Reading. By the end of that film I was still trying to wrap my head around it, but remained amused by the story and the characters. Both films have basically the same premise — look what happens when morons try to be spies. (Even if Damon only appears to be a moron when he is in fact a nut who’s a pathological liar.) Just like Burn After Reading, I enjoyed this film very much. Damon was at the top of his game and it was good to see him trying something outside of his Bourne and Ocean’s 11-13 bubble. The Informant! is a fun film about how one man can really get eaten up by greed and how far it could take him.