The Informant!

informant!The only thing murkier than the cinematography in Steven Soderbergh’s new film “The Informant!” is the story.  It may be a case of the former complementing the latter as the idea of the truth becomes less and less clear as we are pulled into this “sort of true” tale of corporate whistle blower Mark Whitacre.  Whitacre cooperated with the FBI to expose a price fixing scheme at Archer Daniels Midland, an agri-industry conglomerate.  As it turned out, Whitacre had a few tricks of his own up his sleeve. 

I found “The Informant!” talky, difficult to follow, poorly shot and a bit too taken with its own self-perceived cleverness.  Matt Damon plays Whitacre, a corporate nebbish, buried beneath a bad toupee and goofy looking glasses.  It also looks like Damon put on some weight for the role.   In Whitacre, Soderbergh presents us with an unreliable narrator but never quite allows us inside.  We are privy to many of Whitacre’s inner ramblings and observations on items ranging from hands to neck ties.   These comments want to be funny but are not, nor do they have any connection to what Whitacre is doing.  Soderbergh shows us the character’s actions without giving us much about him internally.

I give directors who have made very good movies in the past a lot of slack in terms of my expectations when it comes to their current output.  For example, if I liked movies A and B but not movies C and D, I still have hope for movie E.   In the case of Soderbergh I always find myself going back to two of his movies in particular, “Out of Sight” (1998) and “The Limey” (1999).  As in “The Informant!” the main character in “The Limey,” named Wilson (Terence Stamp), has a plan he is trying to carry out.  The difference is that in “The Limey” we are allowed inside Wilson.  In addition to flashbacks which fill in Wilson’s back story there are long takes of him sitting and thinking, something not often seen in movies.  In other words we get to know him.  Conversely in “The Informant!” we do not get to know Whitacre or at least do not get to know him enough to care very much.

“The Informant!” has been photographed with a fuzzy, orange brown look which I found distracting.  Stylistically the film is shot in a very perfunctory, workman-like manner.  The movie was not that interesting visually and the story did not help matters.  Furthermore the jazzy “slap stick” style music, some of which I seem to remember from Woody Allen’s film “Sleeper” (1973), insists on a wackiness that the action of the story does not support.

Furthermore, one would think that a movie about conspiracy would build to an exciting climax.  “The Informant!” simply runs out of steam.

The Informant!, director Steven Soderbergh, 2009,

Warner Brothers, 108 minutes, rated R

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 3, 2009, in Now on DVD. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Seth,
    There is a radio episode from “This American Life” about this story. Mark Whitacre is interviewed and they play actual tapes made from the FBI. It is pretty interesting. Maybe a movie wasn’t the best idea though huh? You can get the podcast on iTunes under “This American Life”.

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