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"The Informant!"
© 2009 Warner Bros

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, Clancy Brown
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Released By: Warner Bros
Rating: NC-16 (Some Coarse Language)
Official Website: http://theinformantmovie.warnerbros.com/

Opening Day: 19 November 2009


What was Mark Whitacre thinking? A rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Whitacre suddenly turns whistleblower. Even as he exposes his company's multi-national price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre envisions himself being hailed as a hero of the common man and handed a promotion. But before all that can happen, the FBI needs evidence, so Whitacre eagerly agrees to wear a wire and carry a hidden tape recorder in his briefcase, imagining himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn't been quite so forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre's ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre's rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.

Movie Review:

Steven Soderbergh’s film is based on a true story about a whistle-blower, but it’s quite unlike the similarly-themed Michael Mann film “The Insider”. In fact, that faux-jaunty emphasis of an exclamation mark at the end of its title would probably have given you a hint that “The Informant!” is really more comedy than drama, more akin to Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen” than say “Traffic”.

Why Soderbergh has chosen to give the story of Mark Whitacre- the highest-ranking executive in U.S. history to blow the whistle in a case of corporate price-fixing- a light frothy treatment is not quite intuitive. Indeed, the story of the man who ended up being discovered for a US$9 million embezzlement could have easily been told as a psychological drama, but instead Soderbergh has made this a deadly serious comedy, complete with an exuberant score by Marvin Hamlisch.

Whitacre was a biochemist and executive at Archer Daniels Midland who over the course of five years supplied the Federal Bureau of Investigation with hundreds of tapes that implicated his company in a global price-fixing scam. Then just when the FBI thought they had a solid case, A.D.M. discovered details of Whitacre’s embezzlement that not only threw the case into disarray, but uncovered the bizarre nature of a man who you never knew whether was telling the truth right from the beginning.

As all manner of deceit goes, it only takes one small lie to weave an ever more tangled web- and so it is with Whitacre, covering up one lie with another and pretty soon not remembering which lie he had told to whom. Meanwhile, Whitacre enjoys the attention he is getting, quite proudly calling himself Agent 0014 (because he’s “twice as smart as James Bond”) and rather foolishly revealing his secret identity to some of his colleagues.

Soderbergh is well aware of the absurdity of the tale and not once does he let us forget it. In between relating Whitacre’s spiral of deceit, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) clue us in to just what is going inside that head of Whitacre’s through a continuous series of voiceovers mostly unrelated to what is going on around him. But their peculiarities- ties, polar bears, and butterflies- tell us a lot about Whitacre and reveal him as the atypical individual with more up his sleeve than he cares to show.

With such an interestingly drawn character, it’s no wonder then that Matt Damon had gamely piled on 30 pounds, donned a rug and put on a fake nose to play Whitacre. Damon’s performance here is pitch-perfect, no doubt one of the best of his career, as he embodies the Everyman with an understated charm and beguiling wit. Here is a man who on all counts was smarter than many, if not most, around him and Damon captures the poise of this confident yet deluded man deftly.

And while Soderbergh’s jolly style may take a while to get used to given the very serious nature of his subject matter (yes, it’s corporate malfeasance!), it is the film’s subject that is the real interest here. Once you realise that, you’d find his satirical style well suited for the tattle-tale of Mark Whitacre- based on a true story no less. Were it not, one would quickly dismiss it as hokey nonsense, but “The Informant!” is as real as it gets and quite deserving of that extra punctuation at the back. Imagine that!

Movie Rating:

(Have you heard? This tattle of a tale is… Highly entertaining!)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

. Ocean's Thirteen (2007)

. The Departed (2006)

. The Good Shepherd DVD (2006)


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