The Informant!: Movie Review
Although he's earned the respect of many critics and audiences over the years, it may be hard to believe that Matt Damon has not been nominated for an acting Oscar since Good Will Hunting. His role in The Informant! could very well change that fact come early next year.
Damon plays Mark Whitacre, the real-life employee of Archer Daniels Midland, an Illinois-based food-processing company. In the early 1990s, Whitacre became a mole within ADM, working with the FBI for more than two years to expose price-fixing schemes within the company. But there's more beneath the surface of the bumbling executive Whitacre, who may not be the most reliable whistleblower. As events unfold, he begins to deceive everyone from his family to his co-workers, from the FBI to his lawyers.
Now any Internet search will uncover the events that happened to the real Whitacre, but there's something exciting about seeing Damon take on the role as one of the most unreliable narrators in cinema history. His bizarre behaviors and anecdotes keep the audience guessing- just when the audience thinks they've learned the real truth about Whitacre, he opens a whole new door of possibilities.
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) brings in numerous elements to turn what could be either a dramatic analysis of corporate greed or a comic romp of a seemingly clueless biochemist, into the best of both worlds. With quasi- campy, cartoon music to link the scenes together, the movie's light tunes and oddball antics of Whitacre mask the severity of both the price-fixing crime, as well as Whitacre's mental stability.
Melanie Lynskey, of CBS's "Two and a Half Men," plays Whitacre's devoted wife, contrasting much of the humor of the film with the actual strife that Whitacre's choices caused for his personal life. Joel McHale and Scott Bakula take on supporting roles as FBI special agents in charge of Whitacre's undercover assignments to expose the price-fixing schemes within ADM. McHale is impressive in a turn away from his over-the-top "The Soup" persona, but it's Whitacre's relationship with Bakula's Agent Shepard, in whom Whitacre first confides in about the price-fixing, that best shows the transition from Whitacre being at the disposal of the FBI to becoming the puppeteer himself, with Shepherd, a beacon of ethical light, hanging on the strings. However besides Lynskey, McHale and Bakula, the other supporting characters who are mainly various ADM executives, provide little excitement and all essentially melt into one example of corporate corruption, which ultimately allows Damon to shine as the audience figures out what working at ADM means.
With corporate corruption an ever-timely topic, Scott Z. Burn's screenplay, based on Kurt Eichenwald's 2000 nonfiction book "The Informant: A True Story," effectively captures Whitacre's complicated personality. The film's most comical lines come thanks to Damon's frequent voiceovers of Whitacre's internal thoughts. The most comedic of these spring from the bizarre stream of consciousness, but sprinkled in are those that give great insight into Whitacre's logic that's key to his deception. All of these internal moments are integral to understanding the complex character.
In the grand scheme, a movie about white-collar crime can only be so interesting- trying to understand the importance of the much talked about lysine may not be at the top of the viewer's agenda. Lucky for them, The Informant! is less about the crimes as it is about the man at the center of the controversy- Damon rises to the occasion with dedication to this central character, from animated mannerisms to physical appearance, creating a captivating figure to watch.
Although it's still early in the Oscar season, considering that the best picture pool has been widened to ten, the likelihood of The Informant! popping up as a contender is as bright and definitive as the exclamation point at the end of its title.