You may be familiar with the true story of Mark Whitacre, and that may detract from The Informant!‘s potential on several fronts. First, you may be inclined to avoid a film that details the events of a whistleblower in a giant corporate entity he accuses of price fixing, simply because… well, how interesting is that? Second, you may know how things turn out, and with most of the plot in hand, you figure there isn’t much to see here.
Don’t let either of those angles keep you from this outstanding feature. With Steven Soderbergh at the helm, you know something more interesting than a mere relaying of events is in store, and Matt Damon is surprisingly capable at embodying his character (who may or may not perfectly resemble the real Mark Whitacre, I don’t know).
I actually don’t want to give away much of what happens, especially since enough of it is in the realm of common knowledge, because the best part of the film is the way in which events unfold. Generally, Mark Whitacre is not only a fairly high-level executive at agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland, but he’s on his way up. As we enter the film, the company is having a very serious problem by way of a virus that is getting into the corn (or whatever) and causing major problems in lysine production. Fascinating, yes?
Mark finds himself with the solution thrust upon him. It seems that someone from one of ADM’s competitors has told Mark that there’s a spy at ADM, and for $10 million the problem will go away.
This leads to the FBI getting involved, tapping Mark’s home phone, and before you know it Mark is very nervous about other things being found out. Mainly, Mark knows that ADM is involved in global price fixing, and now he’s afraid that the FBI is going to pick up calls that have to do with that, and it’s going to look like Mark is involved. Well, he is involved, but he’s forced to be involved.
In an effort to avoid becoming the company’s fall guy, Mark lets the FBI in on the whole operation, and tapes meetings for more than two years in order to get enough evidence to put his bosses away.
It sounds so simple.
As the investigation goes on, we see the secret meetings, and we watch as Mark fumbles his way through an effort to expose the conspiracy as though he were channeling Inspector Clouseau. It’s here that Matt Damon shines, because while he has proven himself in a variety of roles, it’s hard to imagine him as a dumpy, middle-aged doofus.
At a certain point Whitacre seems to cool on the spying adventure, putting off his FBI “handlers” (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) time and again. Mark’s getting nervous, and as we start measuring the investigation in years, he’s having a lot of trouble dealing with the pressure of working both sides. It eventually comes together, mostly despite Mark’s bumbling efforts, but when it does, the secrets that come out are legion, and no one involved has a clue where to turn in the firestorm that results.
It’s hard to describe the dance Soderbergh creates here, because the series of scenes we witness almost becomes a bit of a play on the way other films go about relating their stories. Here we have a film where it is quite likely that you already know the story, and yet it is delivered in a way that is engaging from beginning to end, and moreover is enjoyable and entertaining whether you know it or not. Throughout the film we hear Whitacre voiceovers scattered here and there, and though he’s talking oddly random bits of trivia, it opens us up to the character rather brilliantly. It’s a small element of the overall structure, but it’s one more tool that brings the film together. It’s used wonderfully, and at times throws the viewer off a bit, while elsewhere it pulls a scene together surprisingly well. As a whole it serves to make some plot steps more uncomfortable and/or more surprising, and helps to inspire the magnitude of disbelief at what’s unfolding before your eyes.
For many movie fans, true character studies are the pinnacle of the medium, and while some are interesting and some amazing, here is not only a character to be studied, but he is not simply studied, he is dismantled and laid out like a pile of gears and whoozits on a red, velvet cloth. It’s interesting to listen to a story about how that watch works, but this is something different altogether.
Unfortunately, this is one of those releases that tries to push Blu-Ray on you. The standard release only includes a few deleted scenes. On the plus side, they’re great, and you’ll find yourself wishing they made it into the movie. The Blu-Ray isn’t exactly filled to bursting either, but includes a commentary with Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Scott Burns. The Blu-Ray release also includes a digital copy of the film.
To be fair, the film doesn’t especially lend itself to a host of bonuses, but the Blu-Ray only angle is starting to irritate people. Still, the film doesn’t need a lot of extra juice, it just needs people to acknowledge that it’s there.
This one, partially because I’m so fond of it, and suspect a few people aren’t aware of just how much they want it, is going to be a Facebook Fan bonus giveaway. If you’re already a fan, you don’t need to do anything. If not, head over to the box on the right and join up. One lucky Facebook Fan will be chosen on March 27th. Winner will be notified via Facebook. Prize is standard DVD release.