Written by Scott Z. Burns
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 films. 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 1990s. In a stream-of-consciousness voiceover, which is probably the film’s finest stroke, Mark takes us through his corporate experience. As the film opens, he advises 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 distracts 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) enroll 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 Andrews, 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 he achieves with his crime odysseys, in The Informant!, the surface sheen and glows from the subdued and effective lighting schemes looks like they are printed on the most expensive, luscious film stock on the market. The Informant! has a jovial, frothy atmosphere, reinforced with Marvin Hamlisch’s slightly intrusive score 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 reveals a psychological spike to the character’s 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