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