Movie Review: The Informant! (2009)

Matt Damon in The Informant!
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The trailers for Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! are a great example of why I do my best to avoid film marketing. While they don’t necessarily spoil the film, they create an impression for a film you just don’t get. Sure, there is a jaunty score and a bumbling performance by Matt Damon as the corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre, but it’s more than that… while at the same time… it’s not. Let me explain…

As much as I would love to place the blame solely on the marketing division at Warner Bros., I really can’t. For starters, the trailers are fantastic and hopefully will get people into the theaters to watch this film over the other dogs opening this weekend. On top of that, there really isn’t much of a way to sum up The Informant! in a short amount of time. This is a broad tale based on a true story that never really gets beyond its original conceit — Mark Whitacre is a weird guy telling crazy stories. The trailers give you that, but what they don’t relay is the fact things do get far more serious than they would lead you to believe.

Working for the agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Whitacre becomes the FBI’s informant as he points out the company’s multi-national price-fixing conspiracy. He’s up for wearing a wire when necessary, playing to hidden cameras and doing what he believes is the right thing. The FBI, represented by a pair of agents played by Scott Bakula (“Quantum Leap”) and Joel McHale (“The Soup”), believe they have stumbled on a gold mine of information, and they have. The only problem is trying to figure out where the truth ends and the lies begin.

Matt Damon does an excellent job with Whitacre, it’s just too bad everything he does is so redundant. The Informant! is filled with plenty of great moments, one liners and bits of comedy, but none of these combine for an overall heartbeat. One major flaw is Marvin Hamlisch’s playful score, that does well to mirror the tone of the trailers but becomes a mild distraction as the story evolves, if for no other reason than it ceases to fit. Bakula’s rigid style of acting fits the part and McHale is also a great addition as he continues to grow out of his hosting duties on E!’s “The Soup.”

The Informant! is a film I expected to absolutely love based on the trailers, but considering the most recent films from Steven Soderbergh it doesn’t surprise me it merely scratched the surface of entertaining. There is no doubt he always gets the best out of his actors and films beautiful pictures, but his latest efforts have missed the mark.

As much as Soderbergh obviously loves the art of making movies, the art of storytelling seems to have been lost recently. I haven’t seen his two low-budget outings — Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience — but like Che and The Good German the spark these films need to capture the audience continually seems to be missing.

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