DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Informant!

Tuesday 22 September 2009

The Informant!

The Informant! (2009) dir, Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey, Joel McHale


Matt Damon may not get an Academy Award nomination for this film, but his performance which balances a precarious mix of comedy and drama in Steven Soderbergh's 'The Informant', is a difficult and complex character to pull off. The film might turn off as many people as it turns on but Damon shines through as the glue which holds everything together in this clever and twisted unclassifiable picture.

If you count the two 'Che' pictures which were released early in the New Year, and the 'The Girlfriend Experience', 'The Informant!' would be Soderbergh's 4th film of the year - an output as prolific as the old Hollywood studio system. If one were to group Soderbergh's films into genres, we would have his 'art house' persona of 'Schizopolis', 'Bubble,' 'The Girlfriend Experience'; his serious persona of 'Traffic', 'Solaris', 'Che' and his comedy persona of 'Out of Sight', and 'Ocean's 11'. 'The Informant!' is sledgehammered to us as a comedy, with its 70's-style title graphics and anachronistic Marvin Hamlisch score - a curious choice of tone considering the real life subject matter from which we're told this story is derived from...but more on that later.

Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre a technical executive for a food science company ADM. He lives a seemingly normal life of middle class comfort with his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) and his two 'adopted' kids. Early on in a power point presentation, he's chewed out by his superiors for the company's losses in recent times. He's told bluntly and rudely simply to 'fix it.' Mark seems to take this as a ultimatum and starts digging into the company's business practices discovering some illegal price fixing activities with their Japanese partners.

So Mark turns informant for the FBI who assigns Special Agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) to the case. Over the course of several years Mark becomes a secret agent, recording all the shady activities and dealings of ADM. Mark seems to relish the attention of the operation. Even the most risky of tactics like wearing a wire which most informants might think twice generates enthusiasm and excitement. As the case gets deeper and deeper though, Mark starts exhibiting strange behaviour which seem to run counter to his perceived intentions. Slowly, cracks in the case appear which cause the investigation to spin around on its head in unpredictable and truly bizarre directions.

Despite all those Ocean’s movies, I don’t think Soderbergh has much of a funny bone and the stylistic embellishments in 'The Informant!) simply slap on a tone of comedy which isn't there in the performances or the script. This artificial injection of comedy is a strange approach. On one level, its easy to see why he chose to score his film with the peculiar 70’s comedy styling of Marvin Hamlisch. In this case, truth is stranger than fiction and Witacre's story which, if told as a 20/20 piece would probably be narrated by someone like ‘John Stostle’ or ‘Keith Morrison. On the other hand it’s a marvelous bit of misdirection of Soderbergh away from the deep-rooted and sad psychological breakdown of his main character.

But we can't be distracted from Matt Damon in the film though. He's a mustached, pudgy white collar trickster, with complexities cleverly revealed to us as the story unfolds. Soderbergh does tease us and tip us off to who Mark Whitacre might be. His voiceover is occasional but nonsense, random sound-bites, personal anecdotes and trivia, which suggests obsessive compulsive behaviour but also a hint of mercurial capriciousness.

Whatever confusion and uncertainty you might have along the twisting narrative of this film, it all pays off wonderfully in the third act. 'The Informant!' might fall under everyone's radar when other more hyped up films get released this Fall season, but don't count out the 'The Informant!" and Matt Damon at Oscar time.


Anonymous said...

I loved this movie. I saw it last night and I'm still thinking about it.


baby cribs said...

I am a big fan of Matt Damon! I haven't seen the movie but I am looking forward! Gotta see it!