Review: The Informant!

What an awful film.

The end.


I could leave the review at that. I really could. So much of The Informant! just does not work on screen. While I respect non-traditional narratives an inventive film making, The Informant! does not seem to justify the unusual choices in what could have been a far more engaging narrative if played straight.

Instead, Steven Soderbergh decided to challenge audience expectations and really twist the notion of reliability in cinema. We're immediately enveloped in a period world straight out of the 1960s: slightly grainy film stock overwhelmed with bright colors and poor fitting business suits made appropriate by a healthy smear of vasoline over the lens. Then the graphic informs us we're in 1992. By the one minute mark, Soderbergh has pulled us into a trap that becomes increasingly frustrating as a story built on anachronisms and falsehoods is expounded in an unreliable way.

Matt Damon had to pack on 30 pounds to play Mark Whitacre, the youngest president of a Big Corn company and an accomplished biochemist. He's trying to inject a chemical additive into corn by-products that keeps contracting a virus and ruining the output. Out of nowhere, Mark Whitacre receives a phone call form a Japanese businessman claiming there is a mole tampering with the research. Whitacre is thrust into a life dedicated to helping the FBI end corruption in his company.

Do not let the opening credits fool you. This is the Matt Damon show. He is in every scene, does every voice over, and drives the plot to it's inevitable conclusion. Poor Joel McHale gets an "Also Starring" billing right under Matt Damon and has, at most, 15 minutes of screen time and 20 lines. No one has anything to work with except for Damon. It's intentional, too.

I do not want to spoil the film for anyone who still wants to see it. As bad as it is, the film is utterly fascinating because so much of what makes it an awful film is a directorial decision by Sorderbergh to play up the core conflict of Whitacre's life. The other characters have to have nothing to work with because Whitacre is the center of his own universe. He's the genius. He's the hero. He's the white hat sent to save the world. He's the perfect husband and generous father. He's everyone's best friend. And everyone else isn't as smart or pretty or talented as he is and don't you forget it.

Have you ever met a person who tries so hard to be liked they'll say anything to get your approval? Even if the stories they tell seem to be an impossibility or flat out contradict what they said to you five minutes before? Someone that it's impossible to hate no matter how oblivious they seem to be to what's actually happening? That is the crux of Mark Whitacre's position in the film.

I'll have to reexamine this one on DVD. I think there's far more to Sorderbergh's approach than initially meets the eye. The focus and color saturation are constantly shifting to offer a clue as to what is happening on screen. The score is campy to the point of making The Three Stooges or The Little Rascals seem like Bach by comparison.

Soderbergh is too smart a film maker to have let this project spiral out of control. It's a character study disguised as a comedic thriller where the subject moves so slowly you don't notice any change happened until the film is over. There are so many red herrings and dead ends, dropped plot lines and shifting supporting characters that your average Hollywood slasher will seem logical by comparison.

And that's the point.

So, I could just say "bad movie" and walk away, but something tells me that was the intention of the film. This might actually be an attempt to so accurately reflect the subject of a film there is no choice but to produce a flimsy narrative, flat characters, and anachronisms. But if that really is the case, then The Informant! should have aimed for three acts on Broadway to give the audience time to process this convention rather than throw it all at the audience for two hours of confusion on the big screen.

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