Monday, September 21, 2009

Movie Review: The Informant

The Informant *** ½
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh.
Written By: Scott Z. Burns based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald.
Starring: Matt Damon (Mark Whitacre), Melanie Lynsky (Ginger Whitacre), Scott Bakula (Brian Shepard), Tom Papa (Mick Andreas), Rick Overton (Terry Wilson), Joel McHale (Bob Hendron), Ann Cusack (Robin Mann), Tony Hale (James Epstein).

Mark Whitacre is one of the most fascinating movie characters of the year. He is President of a Division of agricultural giant ADM who is under a lot of pressure. He is in charge of the lysine division - lysine being an additive used in farm animal feed, but a virus is causing trouble in the plant, which means that the division is losing money hand over fist. To buy some time, he creates a fake corporate espionage plot. He tells his bosses that he has been contacted by a high ranking official in a rival company who tells him that his company is being sabotaged. He thinks that this will simply buy him some time, but then his bosses go to the FBI who starts an investigation. Now, Whitacre is under even more pressure, and decides to become an informant with the FBI, feeding them information about price fixing in the lysine market. The FBI did not even ask him to do this, he just volunteers the information. Soon, Whitacre has told so many lies to so many different people, that he cannot keep them all straight.

Matt Damon delivers one of the best performances of his career as Whitacre. In the films early scenes, we like him quite a bit. He is cheerful and affable, and we get the sense when he decides to become an informant, he is doing it for the right reasons. As the movie progresses, and his secrets come spilling out, we still like him, but now it’s tinged with pity. What seemed like a natural likeability is all just an act to cover up his own insecurities. Damon, who gained weight to play the role, is pudgier and rounder than he has ever been, and his appearance has a softer feel then ever before. It is a wonderful performance that could get Damon another Oscar nomination.

The visual look of the film is impressive as well. Director Steven Soderbergh is often experimenting with the visuals of his films, and often, I wish he would have just played things a little straighter. But here, inspired by the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, he has crafted an inventive, fun look to go along with his dark comedy. If there is a little bit of a disconnect between the visuals and the time period in which the movie takes place in (mainly in the early to mid 1990s), it is a small one, and the fun feel of the movie makes up for it in spades. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns does a wonderful job of transferring Kurt Eichenwald’s brilliant, large non-fiction book into a coherent, fast moving motion picture, without giving up the intelligence of the book. The fun score by Marvin Hamlisch adds to the comic tone of the film. The film seems to share more in common with the Coen brother’s dark comedies than most of the films Soderbergh has directed before.

The movie makes use of extensive voiceover narration by Damon, but this is one of those rare movies where it is not used as a storytelling substitute, but as a way to illuminate Whitacre’s inner world. The voiceover essentially a way to dramatize the difference between how Whitacre sees the world, and how it actually is. In one brilliant sequence, the two differing perspectives come together as the world Whitacre has built for himself comes crashing down around him.

The movie is not perfect. Soderbergh has said that he was not really interested in making a corporate thriller, and it is obvious. The details of the price fixing, not to mention Whitacre’s other scams, are glossed over. So while, it is clear what they are doing, personally I like it when movies give us an insight into how scams actually work, and this is not that movie (the book is where to go for those details). In addition, the movie spends so much time in establishing Whitacre’s character, that the rest of the characters are not nearly as interesting. As the film progresses, all the different lawyers, FBI agents and executives start to blend together.

But those are minor problems. Overall, The Informant is a funny, intelligent film about a very strange man. He had everything he could ever want, and then loses it all, due to his own excessive hubris. He is a fascinating character, and he is the center of an uncommonly intelligent little movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment