Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Tom Papa, Tony Hale
Whatever else Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! is, it’s odd. No, it’s more than odd. It’s strange—at least for a movie sent out into wide release as a mainstream offering. My first words upon exiting the theater were, “I really liked it, but who the hell was it made for?” (OK, I probably didn’t say “hell.”) I’m still working on an answer—and even with its respectable second-place weekend opening, I’m skeptical that it will find whomever that audience is. The folks who went on the strength of Matt Damon’s name and found him playing a chubby, nerdy guy with a weedy mustache in part of the film aren’t likely to be recommending it to their friends.
The film has been described as—and sometimes criticized for—being Soderbergh’s attempt at a Coen Brothers movie. In terms of the material and the depiction of Mark Whitacre (Damon) as a kind of Boobus Americanus, that’s not unreasonable. Stylistically and in terms of pace, it’s all Soderbergh—right down to his photographic bent for natural lighting (under his cinematographer pseudonym Peter Andrews). And the quirk factor? Well, that transcends the Coens in esoterica, if nothing else. Why are the Smothers Brothers in this movie in (separate) cameos? Why does a movie set in the 1990s use a 1960s lettering style for its credits? And why does it boast a deliberately intrusive Marvin Hamlisch musical score that’s alarmingly similar to his score for Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971)? Only God—and presumably Soderbergh—knows.
The fact-based story follows the inherently peculiar tale of Mark Whitacre, a guy climbing the corporate ladder who suddenly decides to squeal to the FBI that his company is guilty of price-fixing on an international multi-billion dollar scale. The weirdest aspect of this is his apparent belief that not only will this not alter his standing with the firm, but that it will actually ensure his advancement, since they’ll need him to run things when the higher-ups go to jail. This, however, will turn out to be the least of Whitacre’s delusions. More than that I won’t say, because it’s not fair to the film.
The promotions for The Informant! stress Whitacre’s comedic ineptitude as an undercover man for the FBI, and while that is certainly part of the film, it’s hardly the heart of it, nor does it convey the film’s underlying sense of outrage at corporate America. Much more attention, in fact, is given to Whitacre’s seemingly nonstop self-absorbed musings. Regardless of what he’s doing or how important it might be, he’s forever thinking aloud on the sound track about some other unrelated—and often bizarre—matter. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad description of this curiously entertaining film. Rated R for language.