London Film Festival `09: The Informant!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
You can’t keep a good executive down. After ENRON, after Lehman Brothers and the continuing fury at executive bonuses it was quite a change to see the corporate executive class as brimming with ineffective buffoons rather than coldly calculated capitalist psychopaths, in The Informant! Matt Damon stars as the amiable Mark Whitacre, an up and coming heavyweight at global food derivative company ADM in the early nineties. In a stream of consciousness voiceover which is probably the films finest stroke (unlike The Road where this potentially fatal technique can ostracize the viewer) Mark takes us through his corporate experience, as the film opens advising superiors that he’s in touch with a Japanese whistle-blower who can expose an industrial saboteur in their midst and fix a production issue that’s costing them $7 million a month. Much to Mark’s consternation the company brings in the FBI to investigate the sabotage, Whitacre distracting them with the revelation of a massive conspiracy to price-fix goods in the global marketplace. Two earnest FBI agents (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) enrol Whitacre into service as a double-agent, an informer in a comedic bumbling and disorganized fashion, leaving his exasperated handlers uncertain whether he’s cooperating or not. Mark’s web of deceit begins to disentangle as the film progresses, his numerous subterfuges slowly unraveling as the scale of the real corruption is incrementally revealed.
Under his usual DP pseudonym Peter George Soderbergh proves once again he is one of the most adept masters of the digital camera revolution. In opposition to the recent work of Michael Mann and the edgy, viscous, grainy texture that he achieves with his crime odysseys in The Informant! the surface sheen and glows from his subdued and effective lighting schemes looks like they are printed on the most expensive, luscious film stock on the market. The Informant! has a very jovial, frothy atmosphere which is reinforced with a slightly intrusive score of Marvin Hamlisch that brings to mind the caper movies of the 1960’s, it’s a far more breezy affair than Soderbergh’s impenetrable existential corporate yarn Schizopolis. Damon convinces as the amiable Whitacre, even generating a certain level of sympathy toward the finale despite the depths of his corporate malfeasance, one serious scene toward the end revealing a psychological spike to the characters congenial veneer. The film almost metaphorically seems to grab the audience in a headlock, ruffle their hair and convince them that they’re having a good time, it’s an entertaining romp that will evaporate from the memory a couple of hours after the credits dim.
– John Mcentee