The Informant! [Blu-Ray] Steven Soderbergh

The Informant! [Blu-Ray] Steven Soderbergh
The Informant! seems like a tale the Coen brothers should be telling. It's based on the true story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a corn industry bigwig who becomes aware of shading dealings in the lucrative industry of food additives and contacts the FBI to blow the whistle. But Whitacre, who's likeable, smart and successful, believes that his corporate position will be secure when this handful of bad apples are removed, leaving him to rise to the very top of the company, showered in glory and accolades. Which makes him seem extremely naive and kind of dumb. The trick is that as The Informant! unfolds it becomes increasingly clear that Whitacre's narrative is not the whole story. Given the increasing absurdity of the lies that Whitacre has to spin in order to keep his employers in the dark and the ways in which he turns out to be manipulating the FBI, with only shards of truth, Soderbergh decides to play the entire tale as a wacky comedy. That's fair ― after all, the Coens did much the same thing with Fargo, another tale of escalating bad choices with a well meaning, but out-of-his league, "mastermind" at its centre. But while the Coens let the actions of Fargo (which claimed to be based on a true story, but wasn't) play out until the absurdities become clear, Soderbergh pushes for laughs from the first frame of The Informant! Leaving aside Soderbergh's complete lack of experience with comedy (what's his funniest film? The Limey? Parts of the Ocean's movies?), The Informant! is played for laughs before we get a grasp on the intricacies of the corn industry and before we get a sense of Whitacre's role in this world. No doubt, the escalation of absurdity and bad choices ― again, I can't help but mentally return to Fargo ― are kind of hilarious, but The Informant! plays like someone telling you a joke so funny they can't help but laugh through the telling, which wrecks the punch-line and the fun. Matt Damon does a good job in these weird circumstances, and a supporting cast that includes a lot of comedians in dramatic roles (Joel McHale, Scott Adsit, Tom Papa) does solid work. But by employing the film equivalent of chortling at his own joke, Soderbergh leaves the audience on the outside looking in. A commentary by the director, with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, reveals that they're knee-deep in the details of this scandal; they just didn't find the right balance for telling this story. (Warner)