Originally Reviewed – 2/8/2010
Steven Soderbergh has become one of those directors who can pretty much make whatever he wants. For every Ocean’s movie or Erin Brockovich, there is a “Girlfriend Experience” or a “The Good German”…something small and independent that you can tell he really loves. The Informant falls nicely between these two extremes as it feels like a pet project that actually got released nationwide and ends up as an entertaining and surprising film.
Matt Damon plays biochemist Mark Whitacre, who is the highest ranking executive to ever blow the whistle on a major corporation’s dirty dealings. In this case, the dirty dealing is competitive price fixing and Damon is excellent as the executive turned FBI informer. Damon’s character is self assured and confident even as the mess he’s gotten himself into deepens to unexpected and absurd levels. Despite involving the FBI, taping secret meetings and literally building a case against the company paying him a fortune, Whitacre never feels he’s wrong or his place at the company in jeopardy. Damon plays this wonderfully in the way he interacts with co-workers, FBI agents and even his family…he sees himself as a white knight of corporate justice and the results are fantastic.
As many critics (including Crasher) have mentioned, the funniest aspect of the film is his random internal monologues that pop up throughout the film. One minute he’s meeting with the FBI guys and they next minute, he’s off thinking about the poison content of butterflies or why polar bears hide their noses. Yeah, it’s that random and it’s freaking hilarious.
The rest of the cast around him does a fine job of creating a world for Damon to do his thing, but this film is all about Whitacre, which unfortunately leads to some of the films downside. While the Whitacre character is great, the rest of the film is surprisingly flat and uninteresting. Considering the company he works for specializes in making high fructose corn syrup, this isn’t all that shocking but it would have been nice to see a little more color in the world Whitacre inhabits. Luckily for the film, Whitacre is a strong enough character to move the story along, but things do tend to lag at certain moments. Also, I have no idea who green lighted the music in this film, but it was a mistake. Much of Whitacre’s interactions is framed by silly music that doesn’t feel right…it’s almost as if the filmmakers wanted to artificially heighten the comedy aspects when the film isn’t all THAT funny to begin with.
This leads me to one final word of warning to those who are interested in this film due to the trailers. This is NOT a straight up comedy as advertised in the previews. While the humor that’s in it is dry at best, the film is much more interesting than it is funny, and parts of it are actually rather sad. To me, this is a blessing in disguise as I walked in expecting to laugh and ended up getting intrigued. Not a bad trade off at all but it’s not what’s being advertised on the commercials.
When all is said and done, The Informant is a thoughtful, at times funny and ultimately very entertaining look into corporate greed and personal struggle. The film isn’t perfect, but Matt Damon’s performance is strong enough to pull you through the layers of complexity that inevitably get piled on while managing to give you a few laughs along the way.
Score – 80%