The Informant! brings together Matt Damon with Steven Soderbergh for a small character drama that proves an actor’s showcase for its leading man. In true would-be seventies fashion it’s a character study of the real life Mark Whitacre, who gives up his company to the FBI because he thinks that it’s the right thing to do. But something is off with Whitacre, and the further the case goes along, the more evidence there is that his business dealings aren’t 100% above the level. Scott Bacula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey and Tom Wilson co-star, and my review of The Informant! is after the jump.
With the films of Steven Soderbergh, there’s come a feeling of films that are less than the sum of their parts. After his return to solid footing with the four film quartet of Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brokovich and Traffic, Soderbergh not only won Oscar gold but suggested a hungry filmmaker who had figured out the Hollywood game, and was ready to kick ass after faltering post-1989’s Sex, Lies and Videotape. But the 21st century has shown Soderbergh to be a dabbler, interested in projects briefly and often as ideas, with often films coming across as theoretically interesting, and sometimes dashed off. For this film he does a solid job, and surrounds Damon with a number of great comic performers (Alan Havey, Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Tony Hale, Rick Overton), but none of those performers get to make as many jokes as Damon. It’s a strange film in that way. This is another one of Soderbergh’s modest toss-offs, but it’s at least got a great leading performance, style, and a great score by Marvin Hamlisch.
Whitacre narrates the film, and from the beginning it’s apparent that his wiring may be faulty. He thinks he’s a super-smart super-spy, but he can’t help but futz wearing a wire, or exaggerate what’s going on. From the minute his company contacts the FBI about someone who called him about how what they’re working on has been sabotaged and Whitacre has had a conversation with a whistleblower, you can tell that Whitacre is not totally on the level. His wife (Lynskey) puts up with it, but his FBI handlers (Bacula, McHale) fall for it hook, line and sinker. And then when the thing gets further and further into going to court and more and more evidence mounts, you see a man’s feeble plans blow up in his face.
For the film you get to see Damon ugly-ing it up with a hairpiece, stupid mustache and bad hair, but the fun of a film like this is that Damon feels comfortable tearing his image to pieces, and there’s nothing of Jason Bourne here. And that’s enough for the film to get by on the modest charms of Damon essentially playing a character that could be inhabited by Ricky Gervais. This guy is a grade-A bozo, with delusions of grandeur, and if the film was trying to be bigger than it is (it’s a small, small movie), it might not work. That it’s all based on a true story makes it that much stronger even if the film is cheeky about acknowledging that everything actually did happen. But Damon has proven to be a daft smart actor, and it’s fun watching him think and fail in a film like this.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray comes with a digital copy and a DVD version. Way of the future, way of the future. The film is presents in widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. This is a great score from Hamlisch (not kidding at all), and the soundtrack serves it well, while the picture quality is as to be expected – excellent. The disc comes with a commentary by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, and two deleted scenes (6 min.) which reinforce the narrative.