Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynsky
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns; based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Released: Warner Bros. Pictures (2009)
This movie may be one of the most bizarre character studies I've seen in a while. And I think what makes it stand out for me is how Steven Soderbergh set out to present Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon). The man, an executive/bio-chemist and inevitable whistleblower, is displayed before the audience as a hapless buffoon who manages to delay his own professional demise within his company, ADM, by constructing a house of cards propped up by one astonishing deceit after another.
When ADM, which is complicit in an international price-fixing scheme, garners the attention of the FBI over an extortion scheme, Whitacre begins to see himself as a possible patsy for ADM's illegal endeavors and becomes an informant for the FBI against ADM. But while he's feeding FBI agents, Brian Shepherd (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale), with wire-tapped meetings among the playmakers in the price-fixing, he's also withholding information from them pertaining to his own blithely ignorant and misguided attempts to divert attention from him, as well as his own illegal activity of a different nature.
And the craziest bit is that this is somehow inspired by true events, Mark Whitacre is a satirized characterization of a real person. Oh dear lord.
I think what saves this movie from drowning in its own drool is that it's played for laughs, rather than treat it like a suspenseful corporate espionage film. Matt Damon does a downright amazing job of making this guy seem real and relatable, while simultaneously showing the comically absurd antics and behavior of a white-collar criminal.
Another saving grace is the high caliber casting choices. Matt Damon is the comic relief fixture of the film, surrounded by straight men off which to bounce his inanity. The arguable brilliance of the casting choices comes from having so many comic actors and comedians cast as those straight men, avoiding any kind of hammy portrayals and giving entirely sincere performances. Joel McHale, Tom Papa, Patton Oswalt, Andrew Daly, Ann Cusack, Tony Hale, and even Tom and Dick Smothers--yes, the Smothers Brothers are in this movie--are cast as the characters who basically look at Matt Damon's character with gaping-mawed amazement at the biosphere of bullshit he's created.
The movie taps into that kind of cringe-worthy style of comedy seen in "The Office", but given in a charming cinematic feel. And the score through the movie is just the cherry on top, with its peppy "model employee" jingles at one point to fades into "James Bond" or "Laugh In" theme music the next.
Matt Damon may have gotten some measure of praise last year for his role in Invictus, but The Informant should have been the movie to earn him the real praise.