The Informant! reviews

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Zahveed
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Postby Zahveed » Sun Sep 20, 2009 11:40 am

SPOILER ALERT:


It is kind of sad when you realize he's a delusional nutjob.

To set the plot straight, did Mark give the FBI information on the company so that he could cover up his embezzlement? That's what I got from it in the Presidential Pardon Request scene.




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Postby Okri » Sat Sep 19, 2009 11:04 pm

I liked it a lot. Don't get what Penelope says, but I find that Soderbergh is likely smarter than most of his audience anyway, so I might be giving him a pass for most of it.

My dad found it more sad than funny, though (I myself thought it was a riot).




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Postby Zahveed » Sat Sep 19, 2009 10:55 pm

7/10

Dragged in a few parts. The voice over and the music (which I believe also played in his character's head) made it.
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Postby Penelope » Sat Sep 19, 2009 7:37 pm

5/10

It took me awhile to get into the rhythm of the film: I was literally hating it for much of the first half before I started to enjoy it a bit, thanks mostly to Matt Damon's performance (and, yes, Bakula and Lynskey are great, too). But Soderbergh is one of my least favorite "auteur" directors: I always get the feeling that he thinks he's smarter than the audience, a pretentiousness that colors my reactions. Got very much that feeling here.
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Postby Sabin » Sat Sep 19, 2009 3:45 am

Well, yeah...but I'm pleased to say this approach entirely worked for me, for two reasons. First, I've had a lifelong aversion to "he's wearing a wire/will they catch him?" scenes -- the tension they offer is nerve-wracking in a way that's never given me the least pleasure -- and the film's style let me breeze right past those scenes.

A version of 'The Informant!' played straight would be much duller and less unique. Soderbergh is interested in this goon's mind-set and he's playing it for laughs. Which he gets. Matt Damon's performance as Mark Whitacre is pretty great. The film lays out his pathology from the get-go. His V.O. is very arch, and we assume it ties into Soderbergh expediting convention, but then it reveals something deeper in his character that's been there all along. It's a funny performance of the David Brent variety. You can't believe this guy thinks any of this is a good idea. Even the tracks laid down at the beginning reveal something rotten beneath.

Soderbergh's punctuation aren't that daring. He underscores his banal scenes with music that makes an active mockery of Whitacre's mundane existence. His cinematography is ugly in detail and serves only to render the film corn-colored and draw allusions to the 70's. This is not a pop masterpiece like 'Out of Sight'. But 'The Informant!' is a great performance with wonderful ensemble perfs (Bakula and Lynskey knock their phantom roles out of the park) and some shrewd advanced planning. I had a great time.
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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:14 pm

When I saw the exclamation point appended to the title of this movie, my heart sank a bit. I feared it would be Soderbergh doing one of his "interesting experiment" glosses on material that would seve no purpose (not to say The Good German on the page was sacred text, but the film's stylization seemed to me uttrerly without point). The snarky title card, the groovy credit graphics and the jaunty score all pointed this same way: it seemed we were going go get The Insider played by a laughing hipster.

Well, yeah...but I'm pleased to say this approach entirely worked for me, for two reasons. First, I've had a lifelong aversion to "he's wearing a wire/will they catch him?" scenes -- the tension they offer is nerve-wracking in a way that's never given me the least pleasure -- and the film's style let me breeze right past those scenes. But, second, as the film goes on, you find out it's quite a bit different from The Insider -- a story whose turns you truly wouldn't believe if it weren't factually based -- and, in the end, incredulous laughter seems the only proper response to such an amazing, improbable tale.

I should add that I didn't follow this story while it was unfolding in the Wall Street Journal, so the details came as complete surprise to me. For those who know the outcome from the start, the approach may not work as well (Lisa Schwarzbaum, who references the book, takes a stern teacher/"you students need to take this more seriously" approach in her review).

Damon is a hugely bright guy who choses his projects with taste, but he's never grabbed onto roles that put him into award contention (other than Good Will Hunting, the nomination for which seemed more attached to affection for the film than particular admiration for his work). This is his flashiest role by far, and, while I don't think it has the depth of an award-winning performance, it kind of bowls you over by the sheer vastness of it -- he's in almost literally every frame, and talks our ears off throughout. I'd think at this point his chances of a nomination are strong, but much of course depends on how the rest of the year goes.

I'm steering short of detail because I don't want to ruin the story for others. Perhaps later a more elaborate discussion would be appropriate. I'll just say I enjoyed the hell out of the film.

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Postby Okri » Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:22 pm

Neither Screendaily or The Hollywood Reporter are quite as amused.

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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Sep 07, 2009 12:34 pm

So far, the films to which I'm most looking forward from the festival bunch are apparently comic.

The Informant!
By TODD MCCARTHY
'The Informant!'

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Participant Media and Groundswell Prods. of a Section Eight-Jaffe/Braunstein Enterprise production. Produced by Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, Kurt Eichenwald, Gregory Jacobs, Jennifer Fox. Executive producers, George Clooney, Jeff Skoll, Michael London. Co-producer, Michael Polaire. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Screenplay, Scott Z. Burns, based on the book “The Informant (A True Story)” by Kurt Eichenwald.

Mark Whitacre - Matt Damon
FBI Special Agent Brian Shepard - Scott Bakula
FBI Special Agent Bob Herndon - Joel McHale
Ginger Whitacre - Melanie Lynskey
Terry Wilson - Rick Overton
Mick Andreas - Tom Papa
Mark Cheviron - Tom Wilson
Aubrey Daniel - Clancy Brown
James Epstein - Tony Hale
Robin Mann - Ann Cusack
FBI Special Agent Dean Paisley - Allan Havey
Liz Taylor - Rusty Schwimmer

The wacky little brother of “Erin Brockovich,” “The Informant!” goofs around lightheartedly while still doing some justice to the true-life story of a zealous but wildly delusional corporate whistle-blower. A larky outing for director Steven Soderbergh after the somber rigors of “Che” and “The Girlfriend Experience,” the pic showcases an excellent performance by a chubbed-out Matt Damon as a Midwestern executive who’s so smart he’s dumb. Amusingly eccentric rather than outright funny, this Warner Bros. release will have to rely mostly on Damon for its B.O., which looks to be modest.
Having already done a major film that called out big business with a straight face, Soderbergh returns to the same arena with a cocked eyebrow and lots of jokers up his sleeve. The exclamation point on the title and the jaunty, old-fashioned score by Marvin Hamlisch serve as immediate tipoffs as to the film’s hyperreal intentions, which will inevitably put some viewers off, but for others will provide an amusing, original angle on the sort of story that’s almost always done with an earnest sense of self-importance. In some ways, you could call “The Informant!” Soderbergh’s Richard Lester movie, in light of his devotion to the Britain-based American director of cutting, serious comedies.

Packed out with 30 extra pounds, a moustache, artfully done hairpiece and dorky glasses, Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a gung-ho VP at a Decatur, Ill.-based agribusiness firm, Archer Daniels Midland, where “corn goes in one end and profit comes out the other.” A career biochemist entirely behind the promotion of such food additives as lysine, Mark unleashes a staggering corporate and legal tsunami when he tells his boss he’s detected a mole in the ranks that’s allowing a Japanese competitor to mess with their lysine manufacturing.

Instead of meeting a $10 million extortion demand, ADM calls in the FBI, which taps the home phone of the cooperative Mark. At the urging of his wife, Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), Mark goes further, privately informing agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) of a massive international price-fixing scheme involving lysine. Suddenly excited -- in a boyish secret-agent sort of way -- at the prospect of going undercover, Mark agrees to wear a wire at work to provide the evidence the government needs to make its case, and he circles the globe trying to get executives to blurt out what is seldom addressed explicitly.

The lynchpin and most inspired stroke of the entire movie is the voiceover narration screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) has cooked up for Mark. The almost constant flow of Mark’s interior thoughts crucially signals the man’s active fantasy life, as well as his intelligence, imagination, humor and oddness. Sometimes the private commentary relates to onscreen events, but more often it’s borderline stream-of-consciousness, a wonderful conceit that still only partially reveals the protagonist, but suggests that part of him is out of touch not only with reality but with himself.

Labeling himself Agent 0014, “because I’m twice as smart as James Bond,” Mark also is obsessed with Michael Crichton novels, particularly “Rising Sun,” for its prediction of a Japanese takeover of world business. Other casual details also speak volumes, such as his huge collection of expensive European sports cars.

At a certain point, Mark’s story begins to simultaneously unravel and become more stupendous than ever, driving his FBI contacts batty -- well, there used to be price-fixing but there’s not anymore; there never was a mole in the first place; once the miscreants at ADM are cleared out, Mark will be the last man standing and he’ll run the company. Over the course of 2½ years, Mark and the FBI get plenty of incriminating stuff on tape, but that’s only half the story, as Mark’s machinations become wildly more grandiose.

Soderbergh doesn’t play any of this for outright laughs but has cast quite a few comic actors in supporting roles -- even the Smothers Brothers pop up in cameos, Tom as the ADMchairman, Dick as a judge -- and lets the comedy emerge from the head-spinning swirl of events and mental charades. Filming in actual locations helpfully grounds the flights of the fabulist protag -- even the Whitacre home at the time was used -- and the corporate offices, unstylish suits and assorted bland hotels and offices exude total authenticity. Soderbergh’s lensing alter ego, Peter Andrews, again gets excellent results with the Red camera.

Damon is in very sharp form in his fifth film with Soderbergh. The thesp makes Mark brazen in his conviction that he’s always right and unremorseful about his fabrications, but never in a superior, hubristic manner; as is slowly revealed, he’s always been able to rationalize any alteration of reality that served his purposes, and even when faced with his own deviousness, he never doubts that, “I’m the good guy in all this.”

One weak spot is the portrayal of his marriage. Having known Mark since youth, Ginger sticks with him no matter what. But she has to assume a greater complicity than is gleaned from the way Mark brushes aside her inquiries into developments, and a keener awareness on her part of what goes on in his strange head would have been welcome.


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