When you are friends with the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon you have very little to worry about in terms of being able to get your films bankrolled, after all those four are some of the biggest names in the film industry and they all carry some major weight behind them and their willingness to work with Steven Soderbergh has given him free reign over the last decade to make just about any type of film he feels like. Of course the Oscar winning director is quite talented in his own right but with the acting arsenal he commands he hardly ever has to worry about making a dud.
The Informant! sees Soderbergh return to the inspired by real-life events pieces genre that helped push his career to a stratospheric heights he currently enjoys (along with Traffic of course). The film follows the two and a half year FBI investigation into international price fixing in the lysine industry by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and the fallout from that investigation. The FBI’s prime informant during the investigation was Mark Whitacre (played by Matt Damon), the quirky president of ADM’s BioProducts Division, and The Informant! primarily follows Whitacre’s actions during and after the investigation.
Mark Whitacre is a real person and the events that take place in The Informant! are generally true to what actually happened during 1992 and 1995. The source material is readily available to anyone willing to look for it so I don’t feel bad about spoiling the second half of the movie. Whitacre, while helping the FBI gain information on price fixing within ADM was also laundering money from ADM to the tune of $9 million. The second half of the film focuses primarily on Whitacre’s legal troubles, compulsive lying, bipolar disorder and his ultimate conviction and sentencing to a federal prison camp for 10 years.
On the surface it might seem like a dull experience, lysine and price fixing is not exactly exciting material to base a film off of but Damon carries the film from start to finish as Whitacre. Damon’s portrayal of Whitacre is charming and funny, you want to like him even though he has done some terrible things. Damon’s performance is accentuated by the performances of Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men) as Mark’s wife, Ginger Whitacre, and Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap and Enterprise) as FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard. I found myself muttering, “He’s insane” throughout the back end of the film, it was always Ginger and Shepard that were able to somehow coax Whitacre back from the brink of completely giving into his problems and embracing his insane lies.
As much fun as I had with the film, which was quite a bit, there are a few issues that I had with it that just grated on my nerves. The first being the overall look of the film. Everything looked very over-saturated with a yellow (corn like) tint. I’m not sure if it was the theater I saw the movie in, the film print itself or if it was intentionally shot that way but it looked very amateurish on the artistic side of things. My other complaint is in relation to the marketing for the film. The previews for the film have pushed the comedic aspects of the film to the point where some viewers may believe that The Informant! is a comedy. Let me be very clear about this, while The Informant! does have quite a few comedic parts (a lot of which is showed in the previews out of context) the film is not a comedy, it is a drama.
Overall though The Informant! is a good film and ushers in the change in the film seasons. It is filled with exceptional performances that will probably get more than a passing glance by the major award groups and most importantly it provides a smart and entertaining viewing experience.
4 out of 5