Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey
"Polar bears cover their noses before they pounce on a seal. How do they know their noses are black?" Meet Mark Whitacre (Damon), biochemist, businessman and FBI snitch. He works for ADM, an agricultural giant who produce corn byproducts. Yes, corn. Mark's life is surrounded by it. As he drives home past corn fields, he teaches his son all about the yellow stuff. While they travel, the camera flips the car upside down. The world stays like that for the rest of the film.
A topsy-turvy take on the true tale of Whitacre's whistleblower, Steven Soderbergh's latest is a bizarre subversion of the corporate thriller. Namedropping Michael Chricton and referring to The Firm, it's all incredibly self-aware and wacky. For the most part, it works really well. When Whitacre invents an imposter from Japan who's poisoning their lysine production, the FBI are called in, deciding to tap his phone. Then Whitacre reveals to agent Brian Shepherd (Bakula) that the whole company is involved in a price-fixing scam. Cue wires, tapes and undercover espionage.
Throwing himself into the role of super-spy, Whitacre runs around, bugged briefcase in tow, narrating his actions for all to hear ("Hello Janet, secretary"). Dubbing himself 0014 (because he's twice as smart as 007), he brags about his secret work to the builders renovating the house. A bi-polar, babbling liar, he's more like Inspector Cleaseau than James Bond. Playing off Scott Bakula's straight man, the brilliant double act matches Marvin Hamlisch's music, creating a caper that feels more like the 70s than 1992.
As the farcical fibs begin to unravel, Soderbergh keeps the frame tightly centred on his wannabe spook. Lapping up Damon's dazzling performance, it's a testament to his comic timing and ability to transform into almost anybody - he put on 30 pounds to play the part (not including the false moustache). Standing by her chubby hubby, Ginger (Lynskey) is a devoted housewife, keen to keep her marriage in tact, not to mention their luxurious life, funded by his fraud and embezzling. Oh yeah, he's done that too.
Driving the authorities nuts, Whitacre's weird and wonderful web of deceit soon becomes hard to follow - he digs himself in deeper every scene, but never runs out of ingenious explanations. The glory of the mess comes from this uncertain blend of truth and fiction, but it's that in itself which can't help but confuse. Should we feel sorry for this guy or just laugh at him? It's kind of a bit of both. Did the government really believe him for that long? The flagging mid-section says so.
Compressing an 600 page book into a short feature film is an impressive feat. Treating the absurd events with a comic tone even more so. But as Scott Burns' screenplay strives to showcase the strange psychosis of Mark's mind, it goes a bit crazy itself. The digressive voiceovers, with no connection to the things on-screen, are an inspired, hilarious touch. But think about the truth and lies too much, and you'll start talking to yourself as well. High on laughs but low on tension, the film, like Mark, is flawed, funny and completely mental.
Snappy, stylish and incredibly silly, The Informant! takes its exclamation mark and runs with it. But at times, it runs too far.
Read our conversation with Steven Soderbergh from the London Film Festival over here.
- mark whitacre
- matt damon
- steven soderbergh