Fri 18 Sep 2009
Hey, Ben! You’ll never guess where I’m recording this message!
Once again, Matt Damon plunges into the espionage world and outmaneuvers his opponents as Jason Bou- … Wait, that’s not right. In director Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!”, Damon plays a spy of a different kind. Instead of political or military intrigue, it’s corporate wrongdoing that’s at the heart of an FBI investigation here.
As a scientist turned executive of one of the world’s leading corporations (Archer Daniels Midland), Damon decides to apparently come clean regarding his actions, wear a wire and help the G-Men nab a high profile set of rich industrialists. The entire production is very much a period piece, although which period is a bit up for grabs. While the story takes place in the 90s, the vibe is more close to that of the 1980s.
Now, this next sentence may seem a little out of left field but bear with me – Matt Damon’s character in “The Informant!” most reminds me of Christian Bale’s tremendous turn as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho”. Both involve a narcissistic central figure obsessed with material things and with a world view a bit skewed from the norm. Most closely related though is the manner in which each character develops from an eccentric byproduct of greed and status into something you’d more likely find in a psych ward.
It would be unkind to elaborate too much more but for those of you who enjoy following a character’s state of mind as it takes a few turns for the worse, this is where Soderbergh’s picture is at its finest. That isn’t to say that there aren’t a few reasons this film might not appeal to everyone. First and foremost, there’s the dark comedy tone that sweats out of every pore that the film contains (does celluloid have pores?).
The actors are all quite adroit at playing their parts straight, primarily because aside from Matt Damon, nearly every one of them is primarily a comic performer (aside from those listed above, add in Paul F. Tompkins, Bob Zany, Tom Smothers, Dick Smothers, etc., etc.). This choice by Soderbergh and company to scatter comedians all over the map here pays off in maintaining the off-beat sensibility of the film although if you don’t like your corporate criminal dramas told this way, you’ll be looking up the word ‘pretentious’ shortly after the credits roll.
I admit that I’m a little torn on how I feel about the film overall. It excelled in meeting the apparent intentions of Soderbergh but usually stayed on the other side of the comedy line for my own tastes. That being said, I think that audiences looking to see “The Insider” told from a darkly comic perspective will find what they’re looking for here. Damon deliver’s an excellent performance, shading his character with hints of where the film is headed and evolving into all that he is as the film progresses. It was one of the more satisfying character development journeys I’ve seen this year.
For you non-fiction buffs out there, the film is based on a true story. I doubt that there was as much humor in how the real-life events played out but considering the farcical nature of the it all, I can see why the filmmakers went this direction.
Still, I’m going to go with my gut reaction here and give “The Informant!” a 3 out of 5. I gave serious consideration towards giving it a one point bump up, thanks largely to Damon’s performance, but the whiff of pretentiousness that lingered in my nostrils couldn’t be ignored.