JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Informant (Director: Steven Soderbergh) - December 17, 2009

The Informant

4 4
108 min.

The whole truth and mostly just the truth

With Richard Colvin’s “whistleblowing” revelations grabbing headlines and threatening to further undermine the credibility of senior Canadian government and military leaders largely dominating the news, a viewing of The Informant provides sobering second thoughts as to the morality on both sides of the unwanted-truth equation.

Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book, Scott Z. Burn’s screenplay is at one with the tenor and tone of An Inconvenient Truth (which he also produced—cross-reference below). Just as Al Gore dominated that cautionary environmental tale, Matt Damon’s portrayal of bipolar/physicist/super-ambitious Mark Whitacre consists of extensive voice-over, allowing viewers to hear for themselves the humour, anguish and rationalization that drive this “Beautiful Mind.”

While the seemingly convoluted story (senior executive of agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland first approaches, then works for the FBI, gathering audio/video evidence of international price fixing) unwinds—slowly at first, picking up pace as the duplicities of all concerned mount—the ear is offered an original score from Marvin Hamlisch that is a miracle of understatement, reinforcement and instrumental fun. Kudos to Larry Hochman’s rainbow-of-colours orchestration, deftly employing bassoon, baritone saxophone, fiddle and banjo in perfect “sync” with the action. The overall effect creates a soundscape that seems to have more in common with a ‘60s Disney comedy or long-running gameshow than a drama-doc where just about everyone ends up in jail and the notion of “white-hat” hero is lost in the murky waters of mental illness and unbridled greed. That there are two sides to every story has seldom been better illustrated.

It is Damon’s film and he certainly makes the most of the fascinating character—save and except for the inner terror that haunt those living with manic depression. Had that vein been more thoroughly and convincingly tapped, the tragedy of the valiant hero/unrepentant embezzler would have been as devastatingly illuminated as the troubled soul must have been.

The supporting cast (notably Melanie Lynskey as the Pollyanna wife, Scott Bakula playing curiously naive Special Agent Brian Shepherd and Joel McHale’s perfect understanding of Special Agent Bob Herndon) interact effectively with each other and their star. The pace gradually picks up, moving everyone unstoppably towards their day in court.

Director/cinematographer Steven Soderbergh has kept the screen filled with his stellar ensemble and, along with Damon’s narration, creatively used a wide-variety of shots and titles to move the action and its participants from small-town Decatur, Illinois to the far-reaches of the globe to witness the shamelessly-conspiring Captains of Industry.

Against the global backdrop of rogue bankers and financial advisors bringing the world to its financial knees (but still managing to eke out unwarranted bonuses along the gilded path of avarice), the film has less “punch” than it might have a couple of years ago. Yet the question remains: How many Colvins and Whitacres—realizing that telling the truth (or at least their version of it)—will remain mute as they understand that, for many whistleblowers, virtue is not its own reward? JWR

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