The Informant! Revisited
Strained Comedy

If The Informant! was intended to make me feel like a compulsive liar—which, perhaps, I am; it’s hard to tell what the truth actually is after seeing this film—then Steven Soderbergh succeeded brilliantly.  If the point was pretty much anything else at all… well, better luck next time.

Matt Damon plays gonzo corn syrup-magnate wanna-be Mark Whitacre, who finds himself in a terrible (and terribly enjoyable, for him) bind when a workplace backside-covering lie steers him into an interview with an FBI agent.  The story veers off into left field when, true to the real-life circumstances that inspired this nutty tale, the FBI makes Whitacre their star informant in building a global price-fixing conspiracy case in the corn syrup industry… in spite of the fact that Whitacre confesses to them that his original story about Japanese saboteurs was a complete fabrication.

Everything about Whitacre turns out to be a complete fabrication—even his hair.

The Informant!

Similarly, just about everything connected with the film feels like a fabrication, artificial to the core.  Two possibilities seem likely: first, that the black humor inherent in Whitacre’s nutty, self-deluding paranoia came through so strongly that Soderbergh decided to amp the humor up with the non-sequitur-laced (but ultimately unnecessary) voiceover that Damon contributes to the proceedings; and second, that the film simply fell flat as a drama because Whitacre is simply not a character that one can take seriously.

Of course, Damon’s presence here, as well as that of Scott Bakula as the lead FBI investigator, seems like pure stuntcasting—so it’s just as likely that this frothy concoction plays exactly as Soderbergh intended from the get-go.  If that’s the case, well, thanks much, but no thanks.

Still, self-delusion is a suitable enough metaphor for Big Business, I suppose, and for much of human nature.  Do corporate ethics shift like sand in a tidal pool?  Yes, and I have seen them do that.  Is it really so easy for one personal lie to lead to another?  Yes, and I have told them.  Can a man be so deluded as to completely lose track of which lie he is telling, and still not be clinically insane?  I have do doubt, and suspect I have known one or two such people over the course of my lifetime.

What The Informant! doesn’t offer much of, unfortunately, is any insight into the nature of truth, or truth-telling.

Unless… if that uncomfortable bit of queasiness I felt after the film was done—the feeling that I couldn’t even trust the simple “Good to see you!” that I offered my wife’s friend because I was such a liar—pushes me into being just a little bit more honest, well… then score one for Soderbergh.

But really… do deleted scenes count as “Special Features” these days?  I think someone needs to speak with the FBI about DVD price-fixing!

The Informant! is rated R for language.  I would have thought PG-13, but now that I see the R, I don’t have a hard time believing it.

Courtesy of the film’s distributor, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Informant!  Boxart, release notification, and official synopsis below are requirements of the distributor as terms of promotional screening.

Synopsis:  Mark Whitacre is secretly rolling tape during a meeting of corporate honchos who are illegally fixing the price of food additives.  Meeting after meeting, Mark rolls tape after tape.  He’s sure the tapes will make him a U.S. hero.  What went wrong?  Director Steven Soderbergh reteams with one of his Ocean’s trilogy stars for a snappy skewering of big business based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.  Matt Damon portrays Whitacre, whip-smart and immensely likable even as his schemes become increasingly untethered.  Pay attention to the fun and intrigue of The Informant! and be informed!

Get it on Blu-ray, DVD, & Download February 23rd.