Film review by: Witney Seibold
I love movies about people who behave compulsively. Gamblers, sex addicts, thieves, mysophobics (that’s fear of germs and filth). Mark Whitaker (Matt Damon), the main character of Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!,” is a compulsive liar. That he is a pleasant, squeaky-clean, all-smiles kinda guy only complicates the issue, and only makes “The Informant!” all the more amusing. This is a funny, breezy movie. It’s Soderbergh in the same goodtimes mode he was in when he made “Erin Brockovich” and the “Ocean’s” movies. And it’s about a compulsive liar who informed on a price-fixing scheme of a food manufacturer in the early ‘90s. It takes a filmmaker with gumption to make such subject matter seem fun. Soderbergh, I think, pulls it off.
Mark Whitaker works for a company called Archer-Daniels, Midlan, ADM for short. When he finds that a saboteur has contaminated his lysine stores, he calls the FBI, represented by an excellently put-upon Scott Bakula. When the FBI taps his home phone, Mark ‘fesses to knowledge of a price-fixing scheme to keep corn prices high. The FBI put a wire on his, and he recorded thousands of hours of tape over the span of two years. He eventually was able to secure evidence to zing the bad guys.
Oh, but what a chore it was. Mark was never really forthcoming, and constantly seemed distracted. It was like pulling teeth getting him to tell the whole truth. The conversations between Whitaker and the FBI are frustratingly amusing, and play like comic slow-burn lazzi. We hear Whitaker’s continuous interior monologue, and he is more concerned with small details like tie-patterns and German vocabulary than he is about, well, much anything else. Whitaker’s quotidian preoccupations are the place from where much of the film’s comic power grows.
Eventually some other truths come to light (which I won’t reveal in case you don’t know the story), which paint Mark in a new light, and you begin to see the true pathology of his lying.
But don’t be mistaken; “The Informant!” is not a dour tragedy of addiction or obsession like, say, “Owning Mahowny.” This is a comedy, through-and-through, and a very funny one at that. The Herb Alpert-esque score (featuring kazoos. No lie. Kazoos.) may strike one as precious, but I found to be the ultimate mood setter, and the solid performances across the board really pushed it along. There are even some amusing cameos along the way.
I highly recommend “The Informant!” It’s funny, audacious, penetrating, and light as a feather. It’s like a slapstick version of “Network.” Like a ZAZ parody of “All the President’s Men.” That it’s a true story only makes it all the better.