Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Informant (***)

The Informant. 108 mins. PG-13. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Scott Z. Burns. Starring Matt Damon, Joel McHale, Scott Bakula, and Melanie Lynskey.

Director Steven Soderbergh can be hit and miss, and, for better or worse, you never know what you're going to get with him. The Informant! falls on the good side of the line. It's a quirky little comedy, anchored by a great lead performance from Matt Damon. Based on a true story, Damon plays the title informant, Mark Whitacre, an executive at Archer Midland Daniels, who blows the whistle on a price fixing scheme in the mid-90s. The set-up is like Michael Mann's The Insider, but the execution is about 180 degrees different. As if the exclamation point in the title didn't give it away, The Informant! is a comedy, and Soderbergh stages the proceedings with deadpan silliness, backing it up with a goofy musical score by Marvin Hamlisch that amuses as much as it distracts. Whitacre's story unfolds in cascading waves of ridiculousness, springing from the fact that Whitacre has bi-polar disorder. He makes things up as he goes along and nothing he says can really be trusted. In a clever use of narration, the audience gets random samplings of Whitacre's thought process throughout. The Informant! draws chuckles but it's not hilarious, and even though Soderbergh and Damon are more than game, the movie never quite sweeps the audience up in its story. Perhaps that's because, like Whitacre himself, everything is a little off, a little screwy. Still, it's a decent effort and worth checking out on DVD if you can't make it to the theater.

- John


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