I used to consider Steven Soderbergh a genius until he began to make those inanely awful Ocean’s films. Who else but a genius could have made Sex Lies and Videotape at age 26, and followed it up with films like Schizopolis, KAFKA, Gray’s Anatomy and Out of Sight? Soderbergh often acts as cinematographer for his films usually under the assumed name of Peter Andrews, and also edits most of his films – usually under the assumed name Mary Ann Bernard, and has also written the screenplays for several of his films!!! Films like The Limey and Erin Brokovich only cemented the deal – until Ocean’s happened. So I was not looking forward much to seeing The Informant! until I found out it was about the Archer Daniels Midland corporation, high fructose corn-syrup, based on a true story and about Lysine production – who can resist such scintillating stuff?
Damon plays a geeky biochemist, Mark Whitacre, whose job it is to get rid of the virus destroying bacterial cultures that will produce lysine at the ADM plant. He is happily married with three kids (2 of whom are adopted) just like he himself is (!!). The life of this man living the American dream in middle America is turned topsy turvy when he is “informed” by a Japanese rival that there is an insider who has planted the virus. Before Mark knows it, the FBI are involved and things are threatening to derail completely. So he becomes an Informant! himself and starts telling the FBI what is really going on at ADM. The story turns from cloak and dagger to black humor, as we slowly find out the reality behind Mark Whitacre.
His attempts to communicate with FBI agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) and to BUG the meetings between rival corporations where price fixing goes on, are funny enough to make this film qualify as high comedy. Add to this “whistleblowing” tale the fact that Whitacre actually believes once top management is put behind bars, he will be made CEO of ADM! Despite this firmly held belief he is also hedging his bets in other hilarious ways that cause the FBI sting operation to go completely haywire.
Is Whitacre really adopted? Does he suffer from Bipolar disorder or is an extremely smart and cunning individual? These are issues that are left for the viewer to explore as the story unfolds. To reveal more would be to take away the pleasure of discovering the layers within layers in The Informant! for yourself. The actions of Whitacre are deliciously held together by voiceovers from Damon. Film fanatics need not worry, here the voiceovers are NOT used as a crutch by a lazy film-maker trying to propel the story forward. Rather they bring in even more disarray and delicious confusion to the proceedings making the final revelations even more astonishing. Witness this one:
Mark Whitacre: I don’t like wool on skin. Not even that merino wool they have at Marshall Field in Chicago. Ginger likes it because it’s formfitting, but she likes avocados. And who wants that texture in their mouth?
Mark Whitacre: When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in, because they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose. So the question is, how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, “I’d be invisible if not for that.” That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear.
The film is wickedly delightful, and IMHO talk of its making fun of a disability is so much hooey. Matt Damon plays Whitacre with aplomb, probably his finest acting moment to date, and is deserving of all awards (though he got precious few). The FBI agents played by Bakula and McHale are wonderful as the initially duped, later dismayed, and even later disbelieving, duo. It was good to see Bakula in a film after a long time, either he was not doing many, or I was not watching what he was doing. Melanie Lynskey plays Ginger, the loving wife of Whitacre, who goes through her own series of emotions as the story unfolds.
The film was shot in Whitacre’s mansion and also on location in Decatur and Springfield, Illinois. It is rumored that Matt Damon put on some weight to look like Whitacre, and he is to be commended for getting into the skin of a troubled scientist with high ambitions.
8/10 from me, and a must watch.