DIR: Steven Soderbergh • WRI: Scott Z. Burns • PRO: Howard Braunstein, Kurt Eichenwald, Jennifer Fox, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Jaffe • DOP: Steven Soderbergh • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Doug J. Meerdink • CAST: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale
If you can forgive Steven Soderbergh the money-grubbing silliness that is Ocean’s Eleven (and counting); then one can only admire his list of achievements in American mainstream cinema. He seems to consciously move from one project to the next embracing their differences without feeling the need to stamp an auteurial brand on them. From Sex, Lies, and Videotape (made when he was 26) through films such as Erin Brockovich, the underrated The Limey and Traffic, to his adventurous, if flawed Che biopic, Soderbergh has consistently proved himself to be one of the most interesting (and prolific) directors around.
This time, Soderbergh returns to our screens with The Informant!, adapted from Kurt Eichenwald’s 2000 novel of the same name (minus the exclamation mark!) The film tells the true story of whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, a high-flying executive for ADM, the major agri-business corporation in the American Midwest, and one of the largest companies in the world, commanding a billion-dollar-a-year market. From 1992–1995, Whitacre worked undercover for the FBI providing inside information on his employer’s illegal tactics of worldwide price-fixing, which at one point was bringing in $2.5 million in profits in a month.
As the film develops, Whitacre reveals himself to be more than a mere informer as his schizoid storytelling begets a twisted web of intrigue. His initial reasoning for doing what he’s doing is that he wants ‘to do the right thing.’ It’s apparent soon enough that Whitacre’s understanding of ‘right’ is gymnastically flexible.
The film is billed as a comedy thriller, and there are certain funny moments, but The Informant! relies for its success on the ‘I can’t believe he’s doing that’ moments, as Whitacre digs himself deeper and deeper in duplicity as he seems to pursue his own agenda.
Matt Damon puts in a tremendous performance here (his best since 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley) as the complex main character, portraying all of Whitacre’s eccentricities without playing them for laughs or slipping into farce. Damon holds the whole thing together with skill and is only really upstaged by FBI agent Brian Shepard’s hair (brilliantly played by Scott Bakula’s hair). The stylish well-paced narrative is backed by a storming jazzy soundtrack, courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch, which matches the twists and turns of this engrossing story. The Informant! is an enjoyable romp made all the more entertaining by the fact that it’s true. Who ever thought corporate America could be so much fun?
(See biog here)