"The Informant!" DVD, Blu-ray Review (2010)

2/23/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"The Informant!"

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Written by Scott Z. Burns, 108 Minutes, Rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Steven Soderbergh is a true original. Since his independent debut "Sex, Lies and Videotape" in 1989, the director has performed a deft balancing act between populist entertainment ("Ocean's Eleven," "Out of Sight"), experimental film ("Schizopolis," "The Girflriend Experience") and dark political drama ("Traffic," "Che"), and with "The Informant!," an adaptation of the non-fiction novel by Scott Z. Burns, Soderbergh combines all of these into one schizophrenic and wildly funny concoction.

Matt Damon, in the best performance of his career and easily one of the best of 2009, portrays Mark Whitacre, a low-level executive at Archer Daniels Midland, an agricultural conglomerate specializing in the processing of seed and grains into food and other similar products. Whitacre becomes aware of a price-fixing scheme in the company, and after his wife urges him to inform the FBI, he finds himself caught between the company, where he makes his living and where he is slowly rising in the ranks, and the two special agents who work with him through the years as an informant.

The real Whitacre had a lot of secrets up his sleeve, though--least of all that he had bipolar disorder--and as he finds himself getting deeper in deeper as an informant, things really start getting complicated, both in reality and in his mind.

Whereas the novel from which the film is adapted is more involved with the technicalities of the business and law side of the true story, Soderbergh and screenwriter Kurt Eichenwald instead focus entirely on Whitacre, and they don't shy away from portraying him as he is--unstable, dishonest and unpredictable. The film begins quite simply, but as the story goes on and Whitacre's life becomes more complicated, so does the film. Soderbergh has been known to make his plots quite convoluted (especially in his "Ocean" films), but it's at a whole new level here, simply because our narrator is Whitacre, and, to be quite frank, he's insane.

But with the unreliable Whitacre, Soderbergh has found one of the greatest narrators in film history. Sometimes he briefly talks about his life, his company, and his work with the FBI, but often his narration will interrupt dialogue or an important sequence to discuss such varied topics as the hunting techniques of polar bears, the intricacies of food processing, or the nature and unexpectedness of death. Very often his narration will be entirely unrelated to the plot, but where one might expect it would be more baffling and irritating than anything, it's actual an unbelievably effective means of character development. Not to mention it's just insanely funny.

This is almost entirely because of Damon's remarkable performance. He's hilarious and subtle, but he also has moments of great poignance or sorrow. It's unlike anything Damon has ever done before. He's also complemented quite well with an equally low-key and heartfelt performance from Scott Bakula, who plays Brian Shepard, the empathetic FBI agent who attempts to help Whitacre even when he finally sees him for the man he really is.

Of course, with such a convoluted and technical subject, there also come some faults. The film has multiple stretches where, despite Damon's charm, things just move a bit too slowly and the complications get confusing to the point of frustration. The direction, which is an odd mix of dramatic and screwball styles, often is successful, but sometimes comes off as a bit forced.

The sum isn't nearly as good as its parts, but "The Informant" is definitely an intriguing watch nonetheless and it's easily worth seeing for Matt Damon's powerhouse of a performance.

Grade: C+

View the movie trailer for "The Informant!" below. What are your thoughts?

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