Gripping and ridiculously entertaining
Tone: 4 out of 4 stars
Director Steven Soderbergh’s newest, The Informant! hums along on such a smart, quirky, idiosyncratic frequency that it’s a complete blast. Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s non-fiction book, it stars Matt Damon as a young eager beaver v.p. at Archer Daniels Midland who, in the early nineties, spent two years informing the FBI on the agri-company giant’s price-fixing scams.
Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranking executive to ever drop a dime on a major international corporation, dove head first into the whole 007 thing, wearing a wire, making secret phone calls in the middle of the night, providing video evidence along with names, ranks and serial numbers. The case for prosecution looked airtight. If only Whitacre’s bi-polar psyche hadn’t turned the case, and his life, topsy-turvy.
The movie’s basic outline may suggest something a noble, Big Statement flick on the order of, say, The Insider or A Beautiful Mind, but Soderbergh, his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and star Damon aren’t out to sanctify anybody, least of all themselves. The Informant! is irreverent, gripping, deeply twisted and ridiculously entertaining.
Watching it, it feels as though everybody involved appears to have caught the same buzz. A fattened-up Damon, whose comic chops are an untapped natural resource, has the eager puppy dog thing down pat but there’s also mania, desperation and pathos to his work here. He ought to be on a lot of people’s minds come awards season.
Wily, impossible-to-pigeonhole Soderbergh is in great form here, aided and abetted by a shrewd screenplay, an uber-cool retro-style Marvin Hamlisch score and a honey of an offbeat cast that includes Melanie Lynskey as Damon’s Suzy Creamcheese wife, Scott Bakula as the FBI point man and a slew of good performances from comedians Tony Hale, Joel McHale, Tom Smothers, Dick Smothers and the terrific Candy Clark. The Informant! is easily one of this year’s best.