Review by Gordon Justesen
Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: February 23, 2010
“Paranoid is what people who are trying to take advantage call you in an effort to get you to drop your guard. I read that the other day in an in-flight magazine.”
Watching The Informant! is like getting schooled on the ins and outs of both corporate fraud and the art of deception. No film since The Insider, which this would make a great double feature with, has done a more riveting job of recreating a real life incident involving corporate whistleblowing. And it’s actually because of Michael Mann’s film that director Steven Soderbergh went with the decision to tell this story in the form of a comedy, so no one would confuse the two.
But there’s a major difference between the stories of Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and that of Mark Whitacre, the central focus of this film. If you’re unfamiliar with the actual story on which this film is based, as I was, I can assure that by the end you will won’t believe your eyes and ears. By that, I mean you’ll find yourself saying “How could such a thing ever happen?”
At the center of this film is a most remarkable performance by a completely unrecognizable Matt Damon. Putting on some pounds and looking very much like a real life version of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, Damon is fully immersed in this character from beginning to end, from both a physical and personality standpoint. Though he received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Invictus, Damon was most certainly robbed of a Best Actor nod for his brilliant work here.
The story begins in 1992 when Whitacre, the vice president of agricultural conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), receives a phone call from a Japanese competitor requesting a huge payoff in order to expose a corporate spy. He then mentions the phone call to his superiors. Before long, the FBI is brought in to help with the extortion scheme.
But Mark eventually reveals to agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale), during their visit to his home to place a wiretap, that a whole lot more is going on within his office building. Mark confesses that ADM has been engaged in illegal price fixing. So he becomes an informant for the feds, all the while being overly optimistic that he will be in good standing with the company in the aftermath.
So at first it seems that the film is essentially presenting itself as a more comedic version of The Insider, which I would’ve been perfectly fine with. The scenes involving Mark narrating his every office maneuver once he has a tape recording inside his briefcase provided some of the biggest laughs I’ve had during any recent film. It makes you appreciate the fact that someone like him doesn’t work for the CIA…at least that we know of.
But we learn more and more about Mark as the film progresses. And after a series of story developments that are both funny and outrageous, and not far off from the truth, The Informant! evolves from being a superb comedy to that of a fantastic all around film. It’s as if the screenplay pulled off a deceptive act as a way of cleverly mirroring the many that took place in the real story.
Steven Soderbergh is one of my favorite filmmakers because of his amazing diversity in projects. He has lately engaged in many personal/experimental films, but every once in a while will churn out a more mainstream film, which this certainly is. But Soderbergh, never the sell out, brings his own unique style to the project, incorporating everything from a gold color scheme for the film’s look and a brilliant, goofily cheery music score by Marvin Hamlisch.
I wish I could delve into more of the story, but as many of you know a general principle of my reviews is to never reveal more than I have to. And many of the story developments will certainly be stunners to those who know nothing of the actual story. But like I said, by the end of it you will be astonished that such events occurred.
The Informant! is easily one of the best films to date dealing with corporate fraud. It is also frequently hilarious and a stunning character piece. If anything, it illustrates more than ever that Matt Damon is a truly brilliant actor.
A most splendid looking Blu-ray release from Warner. Steven Soderbergh, who also shot the film himself, always gives his films a distinctive look, and what he brings to this film pays off superbly in the 1080p. As mentioned earlier, the look of the film is mostly that of a golden color scheme, resulting in a truly rich looking picture quality. Image detail is easily remarkable, particularly in the shots capturing the Midwestern setting landscape.
The film is straight up dialogue driven and nothing more. That being said, the Dolby TrueHD does provide superb performance in both dialogue delivery and, especially, the fun music score from Marvin Hamlisch. The many moments involving Damon’s voice over are also quite effective as far as delivery goes.
Included is a commentary with Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. Soderbergh remains one of the best film commentators in existence, as this is a most informative listen. Also featured are four additional scenes. I was really hoping that the segment from the series This American Life, which featured the real Mark Whitacre and served as the inspiration for the film, would be included as well (hopefully we’ll get it if there’s ever a re-iusse of the movie somewhere down the line).
There’s also a bonus disc containing both the DVD version and a Digital Copy for your Mac/PC/portable device.
The Informant! is cinematic success on so many levels. I’m hoping that those who see it will have the same appreciation I had for the so-called “deceptive act” I mentioned. And as far as real life stories about corporate crimes go, this is one of the best to date.