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The Informant! (2009)

Based on a tattle-tale

Starring:

Joel McHale

Matt DamonMatt Damon

Melanie Lynskey

Scott Bakula

Tom Wilson

Directed by:

Steven Soderbergh

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 108 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

Even with a director like Steven Soderbergh and a star like Matt Damon, The Informant! had to have been a hard sell. “Yeah, we’ve got something here—it’s a true story of this guy who ratted out his company that does stuff with corn for price-fixing to the FBI, and he’s bi-polar … and it’s pretty funny.” Luckily, enough people must have believed in the ability of a proven filmmaker to make a solid, though sometimes off-balance movie that defies a label and just exists as the story it is.

And what a story. It’s a true one, as some of the best are, about successful businessman Mark Whitacre (Damon) who, in the early 90s, began working with the FBI to bring down his company for price-fixing. Whitacre works with the Feds for almost three years, obtaining hundreds of hours of recordings to nail his employers, but in the meantime, he’s got a few things going on himself. What it all comes down to is that this is a story of the reality one man creates and how he maneuvers in that reality when it falls down around him.

Matt Damon is underrated. He can do action, he can do drama, and he can do comedy. Here, he walks a tightrope that, for other actors, probably wouldn’t have worked. He plays Whitacre with the perfect combination of “normal guy” charm and total incredulity when he’s caught, repeatedly, in his crazy web of lies, and the inner monologues are arguably the best part of the movie. Also, the supporting cast, especially Scott Bakula as the FBI agent who truly does want to help his informant, is authentic, and it all LOOKS very real. Where it seems to veer off the road a bit is in finding a consistent tone that it can maintain throughout. Those inner monologues ARE funny, but there aren’t enough of them, and whereas Damon never seems to struggle with finding the essence of a character who creates and believes so many different realities we need a scorecard to figure out just where the lies are, the movie doesn’t seem to quite know what to do with itself. With every new “reveal,” we’re shocked, of course, but there are some things that just don’t ever get explained, or if they are, they’re passed over quickly. It’s not that this is one of those complex corporate stories that are dull and tedious—even given that price-fixing isn’t a really exciting topic, the crimes aren’t the problem. The issue lies in a choppiness that runs through the whole 100+ minutes, and though it could be argued that Soderbergh uses this technique to highlight Mark’s actual state of mind, that’s not a good enough argument to provide the balance the film lacks. Overall, though, it’s a smart hybrid of genres that proves a movie doesn’t have to try so hard to be funny, and it’s a refreshing reminder of what happens when filmmakers have faith in their audience’s IQs.

It's Got: One of Matt Damon's best performances, some very funny inner monolgues, a fun soundtrack

It Needs: A little more of the funny, better balance between comedy and whistleblower spy stuff

Alternatives:

A Beautiful Mind, Fargo, The Insider

Summary

Often funny and always well-acted, it’s sometimes a bit inconsistent, but still proof that Matt Damon can handle just about anything.

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