Thursday, March 18, 2010

Your Informant Is Light On His Facts

The Informant!

The Informant! is to comedy what Hal Hartley’s Amateur is to action films. This is to say that the film has certain elements of the genre, but never immerse itself completely. In the end, the film is restricted by the director’s established aesthetics.

The film is a loose dramatization of the real-life events in which a high-ranking executives became one of the most notorious corporate whistle blowers in recent years. Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is the president of Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADP) BioProducts division. ADP is a powerful company that specializes in corn…that’s right corn. When word gets out that ADP might be conducting illegal price fixing, Whitacre is enlisted by the FBI to gather as much evidence as possible. At first things look up for Whitacre as he becomes, in his mind at least, an exceptional sleuth. Yet as the FBI gets closer to exposing the price fixing issue, cracks begin to appear in Whitarce himself. As the FBI turn their gaze on Mark Whitacre, it becomes apparent Whitacre has many secrets of his own.

As I mentioned above, The Informant! is a comedy by Steven Soderbergh’s standards. It is not laugh out loud funny as, or anywhere near as good, Soderbergh’s brilliant film, Schizopolis. The Informant! is more of a dramedy that often strives for the lightness of the Ocean’s Eleven series, yet has the slowburn pacing of The Limey. It is as if Soderbergh is struggling with how much commercial appeal to give the film without sacrificing his independent roots. Personally, I would have prefer it if he had not tried so hard to walk that fine line between comedy and drama. Either go for a gripping tale ala Shattered Glass, or go straight comedy like Schizopolis.

The major issue I had with the film is that Steven Soderbergh takes so much delight in the absurdity of the situation that he glosses over many of the significant moments. The film glibly portrays Whitacre as a buffoon yet ignores the fact that he is actually a very smart man. It is tough to look at Whitacre as an idiot when comes from and ivy-league education, drives expensive cars, and pulls down a six figure salary. He is a man whose bipolar disorder is the catalyst for not only ADP's downfall but Whitacre's as well. Yes the situation Whitacre finds himself in are amusing; yet I could not help but feel slightly cheated by the end of the picture.

The most fascinating aspects of the story, in my opinion, are the price fixing and Whitacre’s motivations for working with the FBI for as long as he did. The bipolar element should heighten the overall complexities of these two situations from a cinematic stand point but, unfortunately, it does not. The Informant! felt like one long running gag where, by the end, you have learned nothing significant. Sure you laugh many moments but what is the point of telling Whitacre's story if you have nothing really relevant to say about it? The fact that Soderbergh uses an airy 1960’s sitcom-style tone in the film only helps to trivialize the whole film even further.

The one true gem in this film is Matt Damon. He, along with Soderbergh’s red-herring style of narration, is what keeps you interested in the film despite its many short comings. Damon really captures Whitacre's self absorb persona, especially in regards to the scenes where Whitacre gets to live out his fantasy of being a secret agent. At times it seems like Matt Damon is on a completely different level than everyone else. I found it odd that Soderbergh rounded out the supporting cast with talent comedians (e.g. Tom Papa, Tony Hale, Jonh McHale) yet had them all play it straight. Besides, Scott Bakula’s dimwitted FBI agent, there is not much for Damon to playoff of. While I was expecting another solid film from Steven Soderbergh, sadly, The Informant! left me feeling indifferent to both the price fixing scandal and Whitacre's life as a whole. The film had the potential to be something special but ended up being as forgettable as some of Whitacre's lies.


5 comments:

  1. I actually love this movie and especially like how the first time you see it it plays like a strange comedy and then as you think back over it, it is actually a tradgey of sorts. Soderberg does a very clever job of conveying the sadness of the story through the editing.

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  2. @Mike - The tragedy aspect is what I enjoyed most about the film, I just wish Soderbergh had explored it more. I felt like he often got sidetracked with the odd comedic moments.

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  3. I had a rough time getting into this film. I think you hit the nail on why I was disappointed with it. Soderbergh seems unsure as to exactly what kind of story he wants to tell or what sort character he wants us to discover.
    The story was 'kinda' interesting and the comedy 'somtimes' landed, but overall it felt like an awkward experiment, which is saying something when one considers that a) 'The Informant!' was sold as a mainstream film and b) It was the same year Soderbegh released two actual experiments ('Che' and 'The Girlfriend Experience') which I found far superior.

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  4. @edgar - I completely agree that Che was a vastly superior film to this. I have a copy of The Girlfriend Experience on my PVR but have not had a chance to watch it yet. Viewing the Informant! reminded me of when I first saw Full Frontal. Good in parts, but ultimately a weak experiment with high profile stars.

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  5. @CMrok93 - First off, my apologies for not having your comment up. I accidently removed it in error when I was getting rid of some junk mail comments. As for your comment on Damon's performance, I completely agree with you. Take him out of the picture and the film sinks completely.

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