Review: The Informant (TIFF)
PLOT: Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre- a high powered executive working at a corn extract corporation, who blows the whistle on a price fixing scheme involving his colleagues, with the help of an FBI agent (Scott Bakula). However, Whitacre proves to be a comically inept, and duplicitous informant.
REVIEW: THE INFORMANT! is the latest film from Steven Soderbergh, a director I usually admire although I'll be the first to admit that he's not had the best run lately. CHE, while brilliantly ambitious, was way too obtuse to ever catch on in a big way, and his OCEANS films just got progressively worse. For his last great film we really need to go all the way back to the beginning of the decade, when he had two, ERIN BROKOVICH, and TRAFFIC come out months apart- landing him dual Oscar noms for best director. Since then, his films have been either completely overlooked (BUBBLE), transparent wannabe money makers (any of the OCEANS films), or unbearably pretentious (CHE, GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, FULL FRONTAL, THE GOOD GERMAN).
THE INFORMANT! is a step back in the right direction for Soderbergh, as he's made an undeniably entertaining film that, at the same time, also doesn't seem completely hollow. While it doesn't really compare to his best work (OUT OF SIGHT, THE LIMEY, TRAFFIC, and SEX, LIES, & VIDEOTAPE), it's easily his best film in years- with him really having an ace up his sleeve in the guise of Matt Damon.
This is a real departure for Damon, who not only had to put on a great deal of weight for the role, but also has to try his hand at comedy, which isn't really something he's known for. This is about as far from Jason Bourne as you can get but Damon's proven himself to be a phenomenal actor time and time again so we shouldn't be too surprised with how good he is here. He certainly has sacrificed a lot of movie star vanity for the part, with him piling on the pounds, wearing horrible suits, sporting a goofy moustache, and even cutting his hair to appear bald, while wearing a dreadful toupee.
As for the comical side of the role, Damon is indeed funny as he ineptly tries his hand at corporate espionage as an FBI informer, with him narrating wire taps, or looking into hidden surveillance cameras. At one point he calls himself 0014 (because he's twice as smart as 007), but throughout, he's seems sure that's he's doing the right thing, and that as a result he'll end up running the company- which of course is ludicrous.
Then, about halfway through the film it becomes obvious that Whitacre's not quite as dumb as he seems, and the film begins to shift somewhat, as his deceptions come to light, and we find out that Whitacre's not the conscience stricken fool we think he is. This is when the real fun starts, and Damon has never been better than he is in the last forty minutes of this film.
Other than Damon, we also get a nice turn from Scott Bakula, who I grew up watching on QUANTUM LEAP. He pretty much plays the straight man to Damon here, and he plays his character's growing exasperation very well. Melanie Lynskey, who's been turning up in loads of films at TIFF this year (UP IN THE AIR, LEAVES OF GRASS) plays Whitacre's supportive, to a fault, wife. Lynskey's very good, and I'm glad to see her getting more substantial roles. She once had an arc on THE SHIELD which proved what an amazing actress she can be, and I expect we'll be seeing more and more of her. The great Tony Hale (Baby Buster!!!) also pops up as Damon's put-upon lawyer, as does Patton Oswalt (easily my favorite stand-up comedian in years) playing a completely serious role, which he's actually pretty good at (can't wait to see BIG FAN).
Hopefully, THE INFORMANT is just the beginning of a full blown comeback for Soderbergh- who obviously still has the goods as a fine director. It's not a perfect film, as it's only truly great during the second half of the film (I also didn't care for the retro Marvin Hamlisch score, which would have sounded fine in THE STING but is a little too persuasive here) but it's easily the most accessible and entertaining film he's made in a long time.