The Informant!

The Informant! seemed to go in and out of theaters to mostly positive reviews without ever generating any real buzz.  It received no Oscar nominations, and just broke into the black at the box office.  What a shame, because The Informant! fits safely in the “success” column for director Steven Soderbergh (The Girlfriend Experience).  Soderbergh alternates between finely crafted crowd-pleasers (the Ocean’s films) and smaller fare, and The Informant! is in the later category.

The Informant!, based on the book of the same name by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald, tells the story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting), a rising executive at agricultural firm Archer Daniels Midland who became a FBI informant and broke an international price-fixing conspiracy.  Whitacre was not all that he seemed at first, and the tale takes some strange turns as we learn more about him.  Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) pitch the story as a parody of corporate intrigue films, told with all the slickness Soderbergh can muster for what is a decidedly unglamorous tale of corporate crime, but the tone changes as the film goes on and becomes something more.   Damon is excellent as Whitacre, and he’s aided by a good, if appropriately low-key, cast, which includes Scott Bakula (Lord of Illusion), Eddie Jemison (Hung), Rick Overton (The Tripper), Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures), Thomas F. Wilson (April Fool’s Day), and Joel McHale (Community).  Bakula, in particular, is great as Whitacre’s straight-arrow, nice, but not terribly bright FBI handler.

The Informant! is funny, moving, and stylish.  The film’s terrible ad campaign undoubtedly cost it viewers, but the complete lack of awards attention baffles me, as it was definitely one of the best 2009 films I’ve seen.  Recommended.

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