The Informant! is the new comedy staring a pudgy Matt Damon in a darkly comic retelling of Mark Whitacre’s involvement in revealing an industry-wide price-fixing scheme involving lysine which is a critical part of the world’s agricultural business. Essentially, the corporation Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) colluded with European, Latin American, and Asian competitors to fix prices to ensure that prices remained high and the corporations involved remained profitable due to not having to compete with each other. Mark Whitaker was the company’s youngest executive who secretly turned informant for the FBI.
The movie takes this very serious matter (these companies were essentially robbing consumers every time they ate any type of food) and turns it into a satirical dark comedy. Steven Soderbergh directs the proceedings with a steady hand. Matt Damon will get an award nomination for his work here. He is barely recognizable behind the weight and mustache he accrued for the role of Mark Whitacre. He puts in a manic energy. Damon’s Whitacre, a real life genius several times over (an alumnus of The Ohio State University to boot!) is clearly in over his head. However, his intellect merges into arrogance as he begins to lie and play both ADM and the FBI against each other.
Since anyone can read that helpful Wikipedia link I’ve included, there is no point in avoiding spoilers here. Whitacre is a manic-depressive too intelligent to accept such a diagnosis. Over the course of his involvement with the FBI, Whitacre embezzled perhaps 9 to 11 million dollars from ADM. Damon paints this descent with sharp strokes. Throughout the film the audience is privy to various internal monologues of Whitacre’s which are windows into his delusions of grandeur. These internal monologues are also the best part of the movie
Damon shows just how dangerous a manic-depressive genius can be. His Whitacre is too affable to be suspicious of. He provides for his family who adore him. His colleagues trust him immensely, in spite of his age. He is fully there in the price-fixing meetings completely and amicably investing in the collusion. He does a great job of talking badly of the FBI and no one questions him because he is loyal and doing what he is told with a smile on his face.
Overall, The Informant! is a very enjoyable film. The laughs are uncomfortable laughs for the most part. The movie does sort of drag at parts and minor characters really aren’t that fleshed out and the various lawyers come off as the usual snake in the grass stereotypes. The movie is also subtle in transitioning the portrayal of Whitacre from a whistle-blower to a criminal. This subtlety may be lost on the masses who made Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen the summer’s biggest film. If Damon gets snubbed for some type of best actor award this year, that will be a grave mistake. See The Informant! it’s well worth the admission price.
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