Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Informant!

Based on The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald, The Informant! is about a corporate whistle blower who uncovers price fixing at his lysine company in Decatur, Illinois. Directed by Steven Soderbergh with an adapted script by Scott Z. Burns, the film is a comedy crime film where the whistle blower also helps the FBI and tries to be part of the gang. Starring Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, and Tom Papa. The Informant! is a witty, stylish character study from Steven Soderbergh.

It’s 1992 as Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is an executive working for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) where he’s a rising star. Yet, when he notices some problems over price fixing on lysine where the FBI is becoming suspicious. Under the orders of his supervisors, Whitacre talks to FBI agent Brian Shepard everything only later to tell him the truth about what is happening. With his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) urging to get in contact with FBI, Mark agrees to become their informant as Shepard and Robert Herndon (Joel McHale) follow the meetings Whitacre has lined up all over the world.

While Shepard and Herndon manages to get tapes and information about these price-fixing meetings, Whitacre believes that he’ll get something out of it though it becomes difficult to maintain his role as an executive and informant. When ADM and its supervisor Mick Andreas (Tom Papa) realizes that something is up as they’re being targeted. Something goes wrong when Whitacre starts to do things that threatens the integrity of the investigation. Notably as he has told a few people such as his secretary (Rusty Schwimmer) and a couple of co-workers about an upcoming raid. Things get worse after a meeting with attorneys for ADM, Whitacre reveals some things he might have done that could incriminate him.

Turning to his attorney James Epstein (Tony Hale) when dealing with the FBI and government, Whitacre starts to unravel from the things he said alienating Shepard and Herndon. With the focus shifting towards Whitacre, Whitacre’s erratic behavior has truths unveiled about the information he provided along with Whitacre’s troubled state of mind.

In this true story about ADM price-fixing scandal that targeted the supervisors to the whistle blower in Mark Whitacre. The film is a study of a man who has everything going for him only to become a pawn of the FBI thinking he will get a big pay-day and take over the company. Instead, he does things during his job as an informant where he did what he had to do to survive and maintain a lifestyle. The outcome is that Mark Whitacre becomes is own worst enemy and an even bigger liability to the people he’s supposed to be helping.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns creates a film that spans for nearly 15 years from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s though the bulk of the story is set in the 1990s. While a lot of the dialogue relating to corporate price-fixing and other business-type of dialogue is hard to follow, it serves to play into the world that Whitacre is in as the film is told through his perspective. With a lot of the voice-narration told from Whitacre, the dialogue reveals a lot of what Whitaker is thinking while some of the dialogue is repeated including the story about being adopted by a rich man following his parents’ death at a young age. Once the story starts to progress and the characters around Whitacre wonder what is going on. The lies start to be revealed as Burns creates a smart yet intriguing script.

Soderbergh’s direction is very stylish as he creates a film that is reminiscent of films from the 1970s in terms of look and tone. Yet, he infuses a lot of humor in the way Whitacre looks throughout the 1990s to the way he tries to help out in playing the informant. Serving as cinematographer under the Peter Andrews alias, Soderbergh creates a bit of heightened look throughout the film in part of the lights that appear in the film. The look starts to get a bit more normal towards the end as if Whitacre goes from hero to degenerate. While the film’s whimsical tone and humor plays off well in the first two acts, it starts to fall a bit in the third act when things get serious. Soderbergh creates some amazing compositions and shots to make the film engaging as the overall result is a very solid character-driven comedy.

Editor Stephen Mirrione does an excellent job with the editing where he keeps things straightforward with the cutting while maintaining a tight yet leisured pace for the film. Production designer Doug J. Meerdink does a fabulous job with the look of the ADM buildings and the posh homes of the Whitacre family including the lounges and suites Whitacre does business at. Costume designer Shoshana Rubin does a good job with the costumes from the clothes the men to the dresses that Ginger wears throughout the film. Sound editor Larry Blake does a great job with the sound to capture the intimacy of the meetings to the way the tapes are recorded for these meetings

The film’s score by the legendary Marvin Hamlisch is the film’s real technical highlight. The playful music that ranges from zany to dramatic is among one of Hamlisch’s finest moments as he adds a lot of humor from old rag-time to country. With the soundtrack playing as if it came from a film from the 1970s, Hamlisch also contributes a song performed by Steve Tyrell to play up the whimsy of Whitacre’s situation as the music is a superb contribution to the film.

The casting by Carmen Cuba is phenomenal from the array of appearances that add humor from the likes of Frank Welker and Candy Clark as an aging couple interviewed by the FBI, Dick Smothers as a judge, Tom Smothers as Mick’s dad, Clancy Brown and Bob Zany as corporate attorneys, Thomas F. Wilson and Rick Overton as a couple of ADM supervisors, Eddie Jemison as a co-worker of Mark Whitacre, Ann Dowd and Allan Havey as FBI supervisors, Paul F. Tompkins and Patton Oswalt as FBI advisors, Rusty Schwimmer as Mark’s secretary, and Tony Hale as Mark’s attorney James Epstein who gets close to see Whitacre unravel.

Tom Papa is very good as the smarmy Mick Andreas who often curses and says very bad things in front of Mark. Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are excellent in their respective roles as Brian Shepard and Robert Herndon, the FBI men who help out Whitacre until they realize some of the things he’s done that alienates them. Melanie Lynskey is great as Ginger Whitacre, Mark’s wife who supports him and tries to help him out only to watch him closely as he unravel where Lynskey becomes very understated towards the third act of the film.

Matt Damon gives what is truly a terrific yet funny performance as Mark Whitacre. In this character, there is a naïveté to this man believing he is helping out the government for his own gain. There is also a sense of delusion in Whitacre as Damon makes him very complex as someone who keeps screwing things up yet couldn’t help himself. There is a lot of wit and sympathy to Damon’s performance as he makes Whitacre a man who is very complicated no matter how devious he can be.

The Informant! is a smart yet entertaining comedy from Steven Soderbergh that features a marvelous performance from Matt Damon. The film is one of Soderbergh’s more accessible film in a mix of mainstream flicks to art-house/experimental films. It is also a fascinating character study on a real man who thought he was doing the right thing only to do it the wrong way. In the end, The Informant! is an excellent film from Steven Soderbergh.

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

I just thought this was a brilliant parody of the whistleblower drama, which has become ridiculously overdone. Soderbergh brillainly blurs lines here.

thevoid99 said...

I thought it was pretty funny and certainly a relief after watching a couple of Soderbergh's experimental films that weren't great but also weren't total disasters.

I love Matt Damon when he does comedy.

Anonymous said...

Matt Damon is very good here but Soderbergh just doesn't know what sort of tone to take here and the pace gets lost but in the end, wraps up pretty neatly. Good Review Steven!

thevoid99 said...

Soderbergh had an idea what to do until the third act when things had to wind down. I think he wanted to invest in a lot of humor but didn't know what to do with it. It was a flaw but at least the rest of the film and the way it ended at least made it a compelling film.