Friday, September 18, 2009

The Informant!

In Steven Soderbergh's new movie The Informant!, based on a true story, Matt Damon gives one of the years best performances as a man seemingly in love with self delusion. It starts around 1992, and Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a high level executive with Archer Daniels Midland, a Fortune 500 company. He makes up a lie to cover his ass with the higher ups, and the lie ends up bringing in the FBI, whom he then confesses to about an international billion dollar price fixing scheme that ADM is a part of. He almost casually tells them that the initial thing that brought them there is a lie, but it doesn't matter because screwing the people of the world out of billions of dollars is a bigger deal, right? Absolutely Mark! Of course, the FBI doesn't take this position on every part of Mark's life, but that's getting ahead of myself. Whitacre begins seeing himself as a sort of white knight protecting the public interest, or as he christens himself "0014" (because "I'm twice as smart as 007"), while the FBI agents start to view him as an annoyingly necessary evil in building their case.

Soderbergh, writer Scott Burns, and Damon do something here I've never quite seen before. As a kind of way to aid in showing us Mark's delusion, they supply us with internal thoughts which are typically completely unrelated to the action currently happening. After having a meeting with a friend about some embezzlement schemes, we hear Mark's thoughts of "I like the idea of an indoor pool. Swimming year round. I'd like the fog coming off of it in the winter. Very mysterious, that fog." The comedic brilliance of Damon's performance probably doesn't come through in that line if you haven't seen it, but his timing is extraordinary. Damon is a really underrated actor (check out his Tom Ripley, it's pretty frightening), but shines brightly here. We can often see the compulsive lying sections of the brain take effect by watching his eyes, and his line delivery almost never failed to get a laugh from me.

The movie isn't a straight ahead comedy, but that's because it isn't really a straight ahead anything. It has some dramatic elements, but isn't really a drama. Has more than a few FBI agents, including the main one played by Scott Bakula (who is terrific, where the hell has he been?), but it's definitely not a cop movie. Same for the number of lawyers, but it's not a "legal" movie. Whatever you want to classify it as, it's Soderbergh's most fun and entertaining movie since Ocean's 11, or maybe even his masterpiece Out of Sight. Amazingly as well, Soderbergh handles things in such a way that even with the endless stream of cameos in the second half, nothing ever feels out of place.

I don't know about how true to life the events depicted are, but I never really care about that. I just know that The Informant! is a lot of fun, mostly because of Matt Damon's wonderful performance. I would highly recommend going to see this, and I actually wouldn't mind seeing it much while I wait for a couple of weeks from now when some other good movies should be coming out.

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