As the lights faded to black at my screening of The Informant!, I realized that it was – and I’m still having a hard time fully taking this in – the fourth Steven Soderbergh-directed movie to open within one year. One year. That’s like a feature film every three months.
At that rate of releases, I think all you can reasonably expect from one of his movies is semi-decent film without any major flaws. But the man with the hardest work ethic in Hollywood surpasses that goal, and he makes The Informant! – the last of his thirteen features for this decade – an entertaining, interesting movie.
In the film, based off of a book, based off of real events, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, wacky) goes to the FBI to report that his company, a major player in the corn syrup industry, is one of several corporations running a price-gauging scheme. But as he is asked to go undercover to find and record an incriminating statement, the Feds discover that Mark might not be the ideal mole to rest an entire case on.
Written less as a linear story and more as a collection of scenes (they span over ten years) that tell an over-arching story, it’s not the typical narrative the advertisements might have suggested, and is more in line with the kind of movie you would expect from the independently-minded Soderbergh.
But at the same time, there’s a lot of humor here that will play to larger audience than this sort of film would typically manage to cover. Whitacre is just a goofy guy, the kind you don’t typically (nay, never) see in a leading role, especially one about spying, corruption and deceit. If you don’t laugh at his inabilities to play James Bond, or his distracted voice-over soliloquies (keep an ear out for his random pitch for a television series), you’re going to be in the minority.
But the movie doesn’t settle as a comedy. After the first half, the film starts loosening up, and turns into a character study as it exposes a darker side to the Whitacre character. It becomes clear that he’s not just a bit abnormal; but rather very abnormal, with some serious problems.
It’s a good role, and Damon pulls it off. His selection of roles can get kind of vanilla most of the time, but he shows in his strangest part to date that he’s got some range. I don’t know if he deserves an Oscar campaign, which I’m sure the studio is considering, but somebody should definitely get this guy a Gold Star or something.
The movie starts feeling long and less connected as the running time climbs – it’s not a long movie, but its disconnected structure and lack of solid plot will have the story wear on you after a while over the last minutes. It’s all good stuff, but your mind might start wondering towards your watch.