Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant! Review

The Informant:
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Released in 2009

A delightfully smart and witty comedy, The Informant! is one of the better comedies of the year thanks to its very intelligent plot progression and excellent lead performance by Matt Damon. Even if it is based on a true story, the film still carries an air of creativity that really sets it apart from recent comedic endeavors.

The Informant! centers around the story of the real-life Mark Whitacre, a successful scientist/businessman at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) - a giant agricultural industry based in Illinois - turned whistleblower when the business side rears its corrupt head. When, supposedly, his conscience cannot handle dealing with the illegal price-fixing schemes that are going on at his company, he starts wearing a wire and contacting the FBI, represented by Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Agent Herndon (Joel McHale). These two actors, known for past or recent appearances on television, are great in their roles, especially Brian Shepard who has to deal with Mark's lies and troubles firsthand. These lies show themselves as Mark begins to compromise himself by concealing certain information or distorting certain other facts. The self-destruction of Mark Whitacre is the real star of the show here, as he continues to descend on a downward spiral while not really noticing it himself.

Mark, played by Matt Damon, is a highly intelligent man with some severe problems. The best part of this movie is its constant, arbitrary narration from Mark himself, giving thoughts on anything from human interaction to polar bear camouflage. At first these non-sequiturs seem like random comedic tidbits but they eventually show another side of Whitacre's mind that is really his problem all along. I won't say much more (the facts are all out after all) but it really is a nontraditional yet satisfying approach at storytelling.

Of course, a real question is whether or not this movie is funny in the first place. It really is, but it will not appeal to everyone. There is a lot of dialogue and some jokes can go over people's heads if they don't pay attention. Any fan of films such as The Big Lebowski or television shows such as Arrested Development should feel right at home, however.

There is a interesting, surely intentional approach at lighting and filming that was made with this film. Everything is bathed in a orange, incandescent lightbulb glow that fills every scene, even ones outside. Sometimes rooms have lamps on behind the actors, making them very shadowed and blurry. This can be interpreted to be a few different things, maybe even a joke by the cinematographers. A reasonable explanation for the look could be an analogy itself to Mark. The script is smart and witty, much like the leading character, but there is another layer of him that is deeply troubled. His mind is bent to believing that he really is not wrong and his hardships are the results of others. By lying to himself constantly, his perception is altered in this way. So while his dialogue may be flattering and convincing, the real soul of his character is as distorted as the scenery around him. As the movie progressed and he starting to reveal some of his flaws and lies, I noticed that the lighting slowly began to look normal. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me but, if not, it was a clever albeit subtle way at seeing this mad man progress in thought and mind.

In the end, The Informant! is a very human comedy, showing all the wonders and flaws any regular person has. In this case, Mark had a fair share more foibles than the regular human but he used many to his own advantage. Would he be brought down? Yes, and he actually received larger punishment than the rest of his corrupt superiors. But the ride was fun along the way, much like this movie. It is not a classic by any means but The Informant! is a comedy that makes you reflect on your own qualities upon finishing it, trying to persuade yourself that you really are not a Mark Whitacre yourself. In this age of economic recession, it is nice to see the corporate bigwigs get a real, human side instead of current media stereotypes. And with all the problems that these characters have, you'll be laughing when you might be witnessing how the country fell in the first place.

Final Verdict:
4 Stars Out of 5

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