Written by Films

The Informant!

The Informant! (I guess the exclamation mark is important) is the latest film from director Stephen Soderburgh, and if I said that it was about one man taking on liars and corporate greed, you might wonder if Soderburgh was revisiting the territory he first examined with Erin Brokovich.
But this is a very different film – even though recognising that took me (and the audience I was with) a while. The film is sort of based on a true story, we’re told, although details have been changed, “So there.” Based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald, it tells the story of Mark Whitacre, an executive at a company called ADM.
He begins to get uneasy about the fact that ADM is price-fixing of lysine, with its competitors on a global scale – setting the prices at which they’d sell their products. Matt Damon plays the naiive Whitacre who’s wife persuades him to tell the FBI that there is corporate price-fixing taking place, and that he’s a part of it.
The key FBI agents are played by an endearing Scott Bakula and Joel McHale (currently to be seen in the not-at-all-bad NBC comedy Community, as well as E! network’s The Soap). They listen to his story, and persuade a reluctant Whiteacre to begin recording his dealings with colleagues and competitors at the secret meetings that take place all over the world.
As the film unfolds, it seems to be told straight, with humour deriving from the characters rather than necessarily their actions. The light soundtrack and on-screen captions would make you feel that this was taking place during the swinging sixties or perhaps seventies. Yet in fact it takes place throughout the nineties – Whiteacre’s ties being a particular point of interest. And his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) seems to be mostly wearing a beehive from the sixties.
The story then begins to unravel further and further. Having somehow accumulated enough evidence to instigate an FBI raid, without being suspected or caught, things that we’ve seen earlier begin to come into play, and Whiteacre is revealed to not be entirely as we’ve hitherto had him presented to us.
Is he really as naiive as all that? Is he, in fact, utterly stupid?
Things that we’ve seen on-screen – that seem unlinked an unimportant suddenly jump out at us, as we realise what we’d seen, but not seen, earlier in the film. While this isn’t quite a cinematic equivalent of the reveal in The Sixth Sense, it’s handled very deftly.
The gaped mouths of the protagonists of the various legal jurisdictions that are involved leaves you laughing out loud, and although there’s a serious subject at heart – corporate price fixing on a major scale – the disbelief of some of Whiteacre’s behaviour leaves the viewer stunned.
This really is a curio then, and well worth seeing if you like some of Soderburgh’s quirkier and more interesting pieces. I suspect that this will be a hard sell at the box-office, being neither a thriller nor a comedy, but sharing elements of both. But it’s good that someone as smart as Soderburgh is able to gather a quality cast and make a film like this.