Synopsis: Based on the true story of Mark Whitacre, a bipolar man, who blew the whistle on Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) for the company’s price fixing tactics.
Release Date: September 18, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Drama
Welcome to the wonderful world of white-collar crime. The Informant! is the mostly true story of an executive turned whistle-blower named Mark Whitacre. Now I say “mostly true” because although the movie is based on actual people and events, the audience is never quite sure of what to believe even as the end credits begin to roll. Yes ADM, an agribusiness giant responsible for the lysine that goes into everything from orange juice to maple syrup, was fined billions of dollars for an international price-fixing scandal in the ’90s. And yes, this was mostly due to Mark Whitacre serving as an informant for the FBI for two and a half years. But no, Mark Whitacre is never really that dependable of a source. As the story unfolds, lies do not seek to make themselves clear, but rather throw themselves upfront to become the center of attention. And it’s completely fascinating. Everything from the insider’s look into corporate crime to Mark Whitacre as a character study is incredibly interesting and what’s even more interesting is that the movie’s a comedy. This exercise in style may not appeal to most people, but for those looking for entertainment other than explosions and robots look no further. The Informant! is like watching an eye-opening documentary, only funnier.
Scott Bakula is perfectly cast as FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard who stands in for the flabbergasted audience as the story unfolds. And Melanie Lynskey is splendid as the endlessly devoted wife Ginger. The standing ovation however, belongs to Mr. Matt Damon’s perfectly calibrated performance of former ADM executive Mark Whitacre. The first thing that comes to mind when watching the film is just how many Krispy Kreme doughnuts did he eat? In addition to his goofy slick back hair, porn mustache, and binocular spectacles, Matt Damon dedicated himself to gaining 30 pounds of flab for this role. He’s never afraid to expose his newly acquired gut either as Mark frustratingly keeps his hands on his hips forcing his coat open often. His looks aren’t the only thing that’s funny; Damon simply walking into his work building or across the floor to his office is amusing and his spit-fire speed voiceovers about everything from polar bears’ black noses to panties sold in Japanese vending machines is astonishing. But even though much of the movie’s comedy is dependent on Damon being a fool, what makes the film fascinating ultimately depends on Damon being a true to life character. We are fortunate enough to witness this character in scenes of anxiety, frustration, and outrageous desperation. The performance leaves us craving more; we want to know why he is this way. But how can we know him if his own wife, own parents, and he himself have no idea? The audience is left with lies upon lies in the dark, but we can’t help ourselves from being entertained.
If there is one thing in addition to Matt Damon’s performance preventing The Informant! from being a complete bore it’s the original retro score by Marvin Hamlisch. The story is set entirely in the ’90s, but the music makes it seem like a James Bond parody set in the ’60s. The audience is hit with everything from Casablanca melodrama, ’70s sitcom melodies, square dance dosey does, and even grand kung-fu opera. The experience is one part inappropriate, one part pleasantly jolly, and overall outright silly. The film doesn’t quite get away with being funny, but it successfully retains lighthearted tone in the face of white-collar tragedy thanks to Hamlisch’s creative score.
Seeing Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, as he looks directly into a camera hidden in a lamp or seeing him come paper-thin close to spoiling his cover as he repairs the wire-tap in his suitcase during a meeting is as close to laugh-out-loud funny as this movie gets. Whitacre’s random thoughts and over reactions earn decent chuckles here and there, but it’s never enough to qualify the film as a true comedy. Sure, maybe the comedy is supposed to be more cerebral. Isn’t it funny that comedians like Patton Oswalt and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale play top government attorneys? Isn’t it funny that huge corporations can get away with so much money still in hand? The answers are, not really. In reference to the last question, maybe it’s not funny because the joke is on us. I understand that part and I understand the ironic tragedy of it all, but in the end it’s still not enough to make me laugh.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Steven SoderberghGregory JacobsMichael Jaffe
- Producer(s): Scott Z. BurnsMatt Damon (Mark Whitacre)
- Screenwriter(s): Melanie Lynskey (Ginger Whitacre)Scott Bakula (Brian Shepard)
- Cast: Stephen MirrionePeter AndrewsDoug J. Meerdink
- Editor(s): Shoshana Rubin
- Cinematographer: Marvin Hamlisch
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA