Matt Damon turns character-actor, puts on 30 pounds and grows a god-awful moustache in Steven Soderbergh‘s based-on-on-a-true story movie The Informant! But is it worth investing your time in…
The Informant! is based on the remarkable true story of Mark Whitacre, the highest ranking whistle-blower in corporate American history. Whitacre works for ADM, a huge agriculture company that, if your to believe the opening monologue, provides corn or corn-based products for every food imaginable. When the FBI are called in to investigate a possible blackmail attempt Whitacre is persuaded by his wife to approach the come clean to them about a large-scale price fixing cartel that ADM is at the centre of. The FBI soon then him informant in a quest to uncover the truth. To go any deeper into the plot would deprive you of the self-discovery that makes this movie worth watching, so I hope you’ll excuse my brevity.
This is Soderbergh’s fourth movie with Damon, after the Ocean’s trilogy (5th if you include Damon’s cameo in Ché), and the director and star are very comfortable with how each other works. The director allows Damon freedom within the role to go a little off-kilter. It’s unusual to see Damon like this, stodgy and lackadaisical instead of the trim, muscular action guy he’s become in recent years and here he gives one of his strongest performances. Whitacre is a complicated man, the movie allows us to see this by constantly interrupting what would be key scenes with internal monologues on often trival matters, and Damon portrays the multiple facets of the man’s personality to a tee. The supporting cast give as strong performances as they are allowed, Melanie Lynskey in particular is a stand-out as Whitacre’s wife, but ultimately the movie is all about Damon. That’s no bad thing though as in recent years he’s truly become one of the finest actors working in Hollywood.
The look of the movie is really quite something. It all yellows and summer colours. Visually the movie attempts to hark back to spy-thrillers of the 70s and 80s. Certainly Whitacre thinks he’s in one, calling himself 0014 at one stage, because he’s “twice as smart as 007”. What it reminded me most of was Catch Me If You Can, Steven Spielberg‘s own based-on-a-true-story movie which had asimilar nostalgic feel. The similarities with CMIYC don’t end there as the opening credits and music also bear a startling resemblance. The music in fact is one of the movie’s best features. The score written by The Spy Who Loved Me composer Marvin Hamlisch is a light and breezy riff on Bond scores from yeas ago. The script is good but gets muddled in the middle, it feels like the director is torn between taking the movie down the more serious route or keeping it fun and frolicsome. Eventually he gets it right showing both sides of the coin, but you may begin to lose track of all the deception and cover-ups. Keep faith however as the pay-off is worth it when the whole deck come collapsing down.
Ultimately it’s a good movie, a little difficult to watch sometimes but very rewarding. Since the whole movie hangs on Damon it’s a good thing that he’s up to the task. You may well find yourself going back to see this again, to pick up on the subtle nuances and double-blinds. It’s one of those rare occasions where reading the book (by Kurt Eichenwald) or having knowledge of what actually happened will deprive from your enjoyment of the movie. You really need to be blind-sided by what happens, as only then will you experience the full impact of events. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy it just as much if you do know what happens, it’s just that I didn’t and I felt better off because of it. The trailers and promotional material portray this as a airy comedy, it’s not, in fact is a stunningly character portrayal of one man in a wholly unbelievable situation.
The Informant! is out November 20th, 2009.