Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Informant!

The Informant

Review by Patrick Hodges

There is perhaps no greater feeling of dread than, after an extended period of time thinking, no, knowing, that you are the smartest man in the room, than finding out that not only are you not, but you’re not even close.

From the trailer and the early part of this film, I honestly thought I had Matt Damon’s character Mark Whitacre figured out.  As we are treated to a multitude of monologues and voiceovers provided by Damon - which range from silly to hysterical to downright loony – I had the certainty that Whitacre wasn’t nearly as smart as he seemed to be.

Of course, having Marvin Hamlisch’s incongruous yet eerily inappropriate “1960’s lounge lizard” score (in a 1990’s setting) didn’t help.  As we watch Whitacre make the transition from successful executive to champion of justice, it almost felt like I was watching a pantomime.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that the dog-eat-dog business of food additives, like any other multi-million dollar industry, has its shady side.  And when Whitacre learns that his company, Archer-Daniels Midland, has been engaged in international price-fixing, he agrees to wear a wire for FBI agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula).  And wear it he does, for 2 ½ years.

One would naturally assume that Whitacre’s flagrantly erratic behavior would be ultimately self-defeating, especially for such a delicate undercover assignment, but that assumption would be wrong.  His character is much more intelligent and cagy than he lets on, and the fact that Whitacre turns out to be bipolar, while it does explain his many flights of fancy, it won’t prepare you for the way the film ends.

Director Steven Soderbergh, who delighted audiences everywhere with the Ocean’s movies, will not find as big an audience with The Informant!  But anyone who does find a way to see this film will find themselves laughing in spite of themselves, and intrigued by how such a chain of events could have occurred in the first place (because it is based on a true story).  It is superbly acted, especially by Damon, who plays Whitacre to the hilt.

Treading the very tenuous line between farcical satire and dark comedy, The Informant! hits the mark enough times to make it recommendable.  Just don’t strain your neck doing all those double-takes.

3 ½ / 5 stars

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