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Reeling: “The Informant!”

September 29, 2009

The Informant

Steven Soderberg’s The Informant! doesn’t hold together as a film and maybe that’s the point, but regardless it creates an uneven viewing experience that evokes little sympathy for its main character and imparts even less knowledge of how his tics form an actual human being. It’s no doubt a stylistic choice by Soderberg — Mark Whitacre, played by a tubby Matt Damon, is a high level corporate whistle-blower whose penchant for spinning complicated yarns and boldface lying confounds not only the FBI agents he’s cooperating with and later the lawyers working in his defense, but also the film’s own construction.

As a result, Whitacre’s narration seems increasingly erratic, the soundtrack stops making any sort of fucking sense, and the tone doesn’t careen so much as stay oddly consistent as the movie itself shifts beneath it. Damon plays it straight for laughs and he does well even when surrounded by a supporting cast of genuine comedic talents (even the Smothers Brothers make an appearance), but the oddball performances seem aimless and, despite this being based on a true story, nobody comes across as anything more than a cipher.

Damon’s Whitacre is a smart dude who while working to develop new uses for corn for the Archer Daniels Midland corporation gets caught as a key figure in an FBI investigation, then saves his own ass by leading the agents to an even larger scheme of international price fixing, becomes a whistle-blower of staggering magnitude (and equal parts ineptitude and uncanny savvy), and cements his own downfall by never shutting his fucking mouth.

Watching Whitacre weave through reality and apply his fractured logic to otherwise straightforward conversations makes for a fascinating character study, but unfortunately, all this is presented by himself or through the aesthetic of his disjointed brain. A probably bi-polar pathological fibber, he’s one hell of an increasingly unreliable narrator. While this type of psychotic tour guide has been used many times before in other films to great effect, Soderberg also positions himself as an unreliable filmmaker, allowing Whitacre’s dizzying thought process to hijack the film and leave us with nothing to anchor on to.

There’s a lot to admire about the film, notably the wry humour, the incredibly detailed set pieces and costumes, and the sheer unattractiveness of Matt Damon, rolled into a few extra pounds of flesh and strung up with ugly ties, but it’s all the sort of quirk heavy, beige suit, combover hair period piece we’ve seen George Clooney et al (Clooney serves as executive producer) do before and do better. Despite the titular exclamation mark, the film lacks a strong purpose or direction, and Soderberg unfortunately seems uninterested in pinning it down.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink*
    October 1, 2009 1:40 am

    I was debating watching this, probably still will. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Soderberg. I really liked “the girlfriend experience,” despite all its attempts to annoy me with pretentiousness and Sasha Grey’s non-acting-acting.

  2. October 1, 2009 12:16 pm

    Yeah, Soderberg is sometimey. I think he’s an incredibly talented director, but I rarely get the feeling that he *cares* about the film he’s doing. “Down and Dirty Pictures” by Peter Biskind painted him as a neurotic intellectual who got scared off from doing any more personal films, so maybe that’s it. Or maybe he’s just too prolific and needs to slow down.

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