Review: The Informant! (2009)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

***

imageLysine is an additive used in the manufacture of corn byproducts. I tell you this because lysine is the backbone to the story in The Informant! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title), which may seem like a surprisingly mainstream effort from Steven Soderbergh after his more recent filmic experiments, but proves more than a touch unwieldy for regular movie-going palettes.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is an executive with ADM, one of the world’s largest lysine manufacturers. The year is 1992, and Whitacre is doing very well for himself, with a large income, a wife (Melanie Lynskey), kids and a fancy house. It is against this background that he makes the inexplicable move to turn informant to the FBI on a lysine price-fixing scam in which ADM is involved. Whitacre imagines reaping a moral and professional windfall from this action, but he soon realizes that he’s in far too deep to come out clean…

The truth is often stranger than fiction, and The Informant! frequently takes plot twists that are truly bizarre. If Soderbergh had decided to make a straight-up retelling of Whitacre’s story, this could have been a remarkable and truly memorable tale of talent undone by stupidity and mental illness. However, Soderbergh and the script (by Scott Z. Burns, from Kurt Eichenwald’s book) play the whole story for laughs; by doing this, they effectively rob the film of any potential profundity. It’s tongue is so far in it’s cheek that it’s bursting through! Soderbergh even went so far as to bring Marvin Hamlisch out of retirement to compose a score (which is effective in itself) reminiscent of The Sting. It’s all for shits and giggles! When the film doesn’t take itself seriously, neither will the audience.

However, that does not mean that there isn’t much to like in The Informant! There is a certain charm to the whole endeavour; as mentioned previously, the atmosphere and score have the feel of a ’70s crime caper. Damon turns in a excellent, chucklesome performance; everything from his protruding gut to his moustache gets a laugh. However, this is still very much a throwaway film. Chalk it up to another experiment of Soderbergh’s. He throws tones and directorial styles into a blender to see what he gets. This time, he’s got something light and frothy, but considering the ingredients, it probably should have been darker. It’s amusing, but should really leave more of an impact than it does.

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