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The Informant! | reviews, news & interviews

The Informant!

The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh's corrosive satire on corporate greed and individual ineptitude

Matt Damon as man of mystery Mark Whitacre

Steven Soderbergh's new film has Matt Damon in a toupee! Stand-up comics in supporting roles! The most bizarre, strange-but-true of story premises! An eager-beaver, 100 per cent unreliable voice-over narration!  Perky, parping horn music! And that exclamation mark in the title! It is, just in case anyone might miss the point, a comedy. Is it funny?

Based on a book by Kurt Eichenwald, it stars Damon as the real-life figure of Mark Whitacre, a biochemist and senior executive at Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Illinois, a huge agri-business which, though you probably haven't heard of it, was one of the 50 largest corporations in America in the early Nineties. ADM was also at the time involved in a high-level multi-national price fixing scam and Mark came forward to prove it. He became one of the country's highest-profile and most notorious whistle-blowers.

Is he very bright or very, very stupid?

In the film, though, he is the unlikeliest of double agents. He calls himself 0014 because he's "twice as smart as 007", though the pudgy, moustachio'ed, bespectacled geek doesn't look too much like a superspy. He lives in a nice suburban house like the one in Revolutionary Road, Stars and Stripes fluttering proudly in the front garden (the only odd note is sounded by his eight cars, including a Ferrari and a Porsche, parked in the driveway).

TID-00869He doesn't sound like a man of mystery either. In voice-over, Whitacre discourses unstoppably on everything and anything from the texture of avocados to how polar bears know their noses are black and the time you can save by flossing your teeth in the shower. Is he very bright or very, very stupid? The film, and Damon's sharp, funny performance, leave you guessing until the end.

But Mark does wear a wire and secretly videotapes meetings. He steals documents. The FBI can't believe its luck. But all the while its star witness is busy embezzling his employers out of millions, right under the Feds' noses even though, in his mind he's a good guy. "I've always thought that when this was over there'd still be a place for me at ADM," he muses.

This revelation can't really count as a spoiler, since the plot of The Informant! has more layers than an onion. It could have been a brooding conspiracy thriller, a bit like Michael Mann's The Insider, or Sydney Pollack's The Firm, or, indeed, Soderbergh's own Erin Brockovich.

Instead, the bland offices and hotels, naff suits, loud ties, tasteless living rooms and almost wilfully unstylish production design become the surreal backdrop for an offbeat farce. Ironic and cynical rather than laugh-out-loud funny, it aims its barbs at corporate greed and an individual's bottomless capacity for self-delusion. We can read in the story the seeds of the current crisis. It makes a fascinating diptych with The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh's previous movie about a high-class hooker which opens in the UK in two weeks' time.

The bland offices and hotels, naff suits, loud ties, tasteless living rooms and almost wilfully unstylish production design become the surreal backdrop for an offbeat farce

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