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December 22, 2009 | by  | in Arts Film |
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The Informant!

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In Steven Soderbergh’s latest comedy, our hero is a more-than-slightly odd Vice President at a giant agri-business corporation, ADM, who narrates in non-sequiturs and always seems to be on the verge of flipping out. His mustachioed, bespectacled visage is a cheerful, kooky one, belying the hotbed of neuroses and paranoia boiling underneath. He talks with a casual self-righteousness, never telling the whole truth but 2009-09-the-informant-matt-damonnever seeming to omit those truths out of some ulterior motive. He revels in being a “spy” for the FBI while trying to avoid them at every opportunity. He thinks that, despite him acting as a whistleblower on one of the biggest price-fixing scandals in American history, there’ll still be a place for him at ADM once the whole thing is over, because he’s the “kind of guy” they need. He’s a deluded, unpredictable, oxymoron of a human.

What’s more, he’s completely real.

Mark Whitacre, the man who blew the whistle on ADM’s massive international price-fixing ring, is played here by Matt Damon in one of the actor’s finest performances. He plays the character with a nervy paranoia, erratic and manic while striving to give an outward appearance of sanity. He seems both spontaneous and calculating at the same time, never truly clean but hardly a criminal. Damon manages Whitacre’s inherently duplicitous nature (Whitacre was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time) with a remarkable sensitivity, never elevating the man to a figure of ridicule or a caricature of mental illness and human oddness. He feels truthful; a realistic essaying of man who was larger than the life he was very much a part of. Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay also helps, with Whitacre’s bizarre tangential narrations and the surprisingly tense construction of the price-fixing meetings enhancing Whitacre’s character, painting him as a man who refuses to acknowledge that he’s out of his depth. It’s a character portrait that is undeniably riveting, and it anchors the film in a kind of heightened, yellow-tinged reality.

Of course, being a comedy, The Informant! relies considerably on the dark humour arising from TheInformant2009MPWhitacre and the increasingly tangled web he catches himself in. As such, the film is a slightly uncomfortable watch, as no matter how much of the film is ‘enhanced’ for dramatic purposes, as a title card at the start of the film notes, one can’t escape the fact that what we’re watching is a very true story. In fact, Soderbergh seems to revel in playing up this uncomfortableness, challenging our preconceptions of the very genre of comedy. Here, the pratfalls are happening to someone who is absolutely real, and with the supporting cast – including talented comic actors like Joel McHale, Patton Oswalt, Tony Hale and Melanie Lynskey – putting on their best serious faces, it just makes it more obvious that what is occurring on screen is not something to generate belly laughs. Thus, while The Informant! is very funny, it is at its best when the lies and half-truths couching Whitacre’s very existence start to become unravelled. As the film’s emotional content becomes more nuanced and effective, the film itself becomes the same, and while it is brave of Soderbergh to approach such a tale as a comedy, it’s an approach that delivers some mixed results.

The Informant!
Written by Scott Z. Burns based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
With Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale and Melanie Lynskey

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