Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!” is sold as a comedy. It’s billed as a comedy. Critics are calling it a comedy. It’s even funny, like a comedy.
But there’s more to “The Informant!,” which even has some dark turns. When you realize that the movie is a true story, you’ll still laugh, but you’ll be a little afraid of that laughter afterward.
All the movie elements are there, perfectly arranged. This all happened in the 90s, and the scenery is perfect. The film doesn’t sell the 1990s, but it sells the remnant 1980s influence on the early 90s, even down to the lamps in offices and ties around the necks of all the corrupt execs.
The film is based on the book by former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, which chronicles several years in the long-ago 1990s in the life of corporate whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, who exposes a price-fixing scheme at his firm. So the FBI has Whitacre — played award-worthily by Matt Damon — wear a wire and report back to them. But things go haywire when Whitacre is revealed as a thief and embezzler. The plot is entirely wrapped around the disconnect between Whitacre and his FBI handlers (including an amazing Scott Bakula). The feds think Whitacre is the perfect mole — an honest family man who just wanted to do the right thing. But from the beginning we see that there’s much less to Whitacre than meets the eye, as explained through a series of Whitacre’s voice-over internal monologues.
Written by: Scott Z. Burns, based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey
Run-time: 108 minutes
As Whitacre’s mind wanders, the government thinks it has an air-tight case against his corporate employer, and Whitacre is apparently either blissfully unaware of what’s going on around him or painfully unable to ever admit the truth, even to himself it seems. Whitacre even asks the Department of Justice is he’ll be ok to return to work at his company after all but bringing it down.
He gets lost in ADHD-like racing thoughts like “Polar bears cover their noses when waiting for seals to surface. How do they know their noses are black? That seems like a lot of thinking for bears,” when he’s supposed to be paying attention to orders from his federal handlers.
Whitacre is a bi-polar, pathologically lying egomaniac, and not only does Damon play the role perfectly, he does it in such a way that we can’t help but compare this wanton disregard for anything but one’s own self, and corporate standing, and new cars with what happened more recently with Bernie Madoff and AIG and countless other organizations.
“The Informant!” is a comedy, but if you stop laughing long enough, you might realize that it’s not funny at all.