By John Urbancich
“The Informant!” is incorrigible. And Matt Damon certainly has a lot do with it, even if his character is based on a true story.
Certainly director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) contribute, too, since they’re the craftsmen who make their book-based piece an occasionally hilarious one.
The former, who has investigated corporate shenanigans previously in the infinitely more serious “Erin Brockovich,” wanted to add some humor to this tale of price fixing in the early 1990’s. The latter, meanwhile, came up with an inner voice for his leading man to deliver and often succeeds.
Regardless, it’s the merely outstanding Damon that sheds his admired “Bourne”-trilogy intensity to bring a lightweight lilt to a heavyweight riddle named Mark Whitacre. The pudgy, on-the-rise executive at an Illinois agricultural firm blew the whistle on the international scheme, but not without his own ever-puzzling complications.
The change-with-the-wind witness totally frustrates a couple of FBI agents (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) with a story that may or may not be true, at least where his own involvement is concerned.
There’s also that goofy “narration,” which we hear commenting about everything from James Bond to women’s undergarments, while Whitacre travels all over the world as biochemist-turned-aspiring-business-tycoon. The things he thinks about certainly make us believe he may be a little off, but Damon turns him into a rather likable lump with a loving wife (Melanie Lynsky) constantly behind him.
To add to the levity, Soderbergh also cast a bunch of comics (separate cameos by Tom and Dick Smothers lead the way) in supporting roles with nothing much to do. It’s one of a few hit-or-miss liberties the director takes with his film, including a kind of period look that certainly seems closer to about 40 years ago than 15. On the plus side, good-to-hear Marvin Hamlisch fashions an easygoing score that hits its stride immediately over some creative opening credits.
Now, could “The Informant!” have told us more as a somber look at corporate greed? Perhaps, but whoever claimed that lying couldn’t be as much fun as Damon makes it all seem?
Studio/Official Site: http://theinformantmovie.warnerbros.com/
[John M. Urbancich is a Cleveland-based reporter who has reviewed movies and written film features and celebrity profiles at Cleveland’s Sun Newspapers for 25 years. As a longtime member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, his work has also been appearing on the Sun News website for more than a decade.]