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The Informant! (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

The Informant!


Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Rick Overton, Tom Papa, Tom Wilson, Clancy Brown, Tony Hale, Ann Cusack, Allan Havey and Rusty Schwimmer.

Screenplay by Scott Z. Burns.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.  109 minutes.  Rated R.

The Informant! is a slightly schizophrenic little film about a slightly schizophrenic man.

The film can’t quite seem to decide if it is a comedy or a drama – and thus ends up being a bit of a miss on both sides of the coin – though mostly an interesting miss.

It is based on the true story of Mark Whitacre – a rising corporate exec who gets involved in an FBI investigation of his workplace.  Problem is, Whitacre is a habitual liar and soon the Feds are not sure what he is telling them is true and what is a con.

The film seems to want to merge The Insider and Catch Me If You Can and misses out on the best aspects of both.

As with The Insider, the movie is a true (well, true-ish) story about a corporate executive who feels a moral compunction to rat out his company – the Archer Daniels Midland Company – and bring to light industrial misdeeds.

Like Catch Me…, the film has a light, breezy old-fashioned feel – though strangely despite the film’s bright 60’s coloring, score and look the movie actually takes place in the 1990s.

Matt Damon is fearless in playing Whitacre, a poorly-toupeed and ethically vacant habitual liar.  No matter what the circumstance, no matter how important or insignificant the point, it seems to be completely against the man’s nature to just fess up and tell the truth.  No matter how often he is caught – and he is nabbed telling whoppers on a regular basis – the guy just digs in and fabricates something else.

We never quite understand the man’s absolute compulsion for lying – particularly when he seems so bad at it.

Late in the film it is suggested that it may be a mental problem – and honestly it feels like one – but even then, the idea is mocked and the film kind of suggests it is yet another excuse from a man who has submerged himself in falsehoods in search of the American dream.

This very inscrutability, I assume, is why director Stephen Soderbergh decided to play the film as a goofy light comedy, rather than the muckraking drama that the core theme of the film would naturally suggest.

Not just Whitacre, but everyone here is rather odd, foolish and inept – federal investigators, business executives, lawyers….  In fact, only Whitacre’s wife, played with steely patience by Melanie Lynskey, has any dignity as a character.

It is a tour de force performance by Damon which honestly is a little too good for the material he is given.  Still, Damon plays it all gamely, narrating his character’s misdeeds with a dryly self-depreciating air and a complete inability to stay on-topic, instead musing on anything and everything which enters the guy’s head – whether it is relevant to the story or not – with irrelevant well outpacing pertinent facts.

Whitacre’s sidetracks and bon mots are usually rather amusing, but never more.  None of it is laugh-out-loud funny, nor was it particularly dramatic, both of which I’m sure were Soderbergh’s intention.  In fact, “rather amusing, but never more” pretty much sums up the movie as a whole.

The most shocking part of The Informant! is the scrawl during the closing credits explaining that after everything that happens here, Whitacre actually was eventually able to become the COO of a different company.  Now, that’s the American dream.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: February 12, 2010.


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