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The Informant! Is Corruption At Its Funniest

The Informant!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Scott Z. Burns based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Warner Bros., 2009

Steven Soderbergh has been one of, if not the most, prolific directors of this decade.  Not surprisingly, this has led to some good, some bad, and some in-between.  Launching the decade off with the likes of Erin Brockovich and Traffic, it looked like Soderbergh would be the director to watch for the next ten years, but for the most part his output has been experimental: from pop entertainment with the Ocean’s series to literally experimental with Full Frontal, Bubble, and The Girlfriend Experience, to gimme-the-Oscar fare like The Good German, to trying-to-be-all-of-the-above Solaris and Che.

I feel like Soderbergh is more comfortable with a movie like The Informant!, however.  The Ocean’s series has been his best work since Traffic, although Ocean’s Twelve has mostly detractors.  And back in the nineties, Soderbergh brought us Out of Sight, a movie that has become more and more of a classic over the years. 

The Informant! plays on our expectations of whistle-blower type movies and builds a character that combines the naivete of The Dude from The Big Lebowski and the smarmy Midwest snake-in-the grass of Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo: Mark Whitacre (a perfect Matt Damon) works at a Fortune 500 corn-syrup company as a bio-chemist.  A virus that has come out of nowhere is plaguing the company, and it’s expected that Mark will figure out the problem.  But when the FBI come in investigating some wrongdoing, Mark wants to talk about a massive price-fixing conspiracy within the company and the industry, curious for a man who makes more than $300 grand a year.

And so the movie plays, as if Mark is your typical whistle-blower wanting to do the right thing in the face of corruption.  But, as we find out quickly, Mark isn’t exactly telling the whole truth, and hilariously believes that if he only tells small portions of his own involvement, or tiny details to even further corruption that the FBI hasn’t found out yet, he will come out squeaky clean in the end.  The mess he puts himself and the FBI agents (played with solid professionalism by Scott Bakula and The Soup’s Joel McHale) into slowly builds, to the point you feel like Whitacre will have knowledge of the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body by the end of it.

Those situations will have your jaw dropping at the amount of lies this guy feels like he can juggle, and you’ll laugh at the naivete of this guy’s balls.  What’s more, the movie provides some very entertaining, mostly non-sequiter, narration provided by Mark throughout.  When his mind gets distracted, he goes on an inner rant, trying to figure out the meaning of all things.  He is a curious guy, far smarter than your average criminal, but woefully lacking any street smarts.  This is the type of guy who would watch Dog Day Afternoon and think immediately he knows how to rob a bank.  His pop culture knowledge of how corporate crimes are pulled off is brilliantly represented by his references to Rising Sun and The Firm.  Before his introduction to the world of John Grisham, he makes a hilarious disconnect between Grisham and Michael Crichton when he believes his house is bugged “like in some Crichton novel.”

I think Matt Damon has more than proven himself this decade as a versatile performer.  Known mostly in the past ten years as Jason Bourne, Damon hasn’t fallen into the same rut that many of the James Bond actors have, where you are constantly reminded of the icon in every performance.  Damon has shown with movies like The Departed, Syriana, the Ocean’s movies, and even that cameo in Eurotrip that he truly gets it, he knows to vary his career and refuse to be typecast.  His performance here is something you’re likely to think about long after the movie is over.  You might know a guy like this who is constantly wallowing in his own lies and bullcrap.  He’s a guy you’d like to meet, just to see the train wreck.

This is one of the funniest and most entertaining movies of the year.

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