We slowly realize that Whitacre is the king of all unreliable narrators but since he is telling the story there’s nothing we can do except go along for the ride.
There is a moment near the end of The Informant! which carries the entire weight of the film in three simple words: "I don’t know." In that brief instant, the audience fully realizes the magnificence of Steven Soderbergh’s film and sees the brilliance of Matt Damon in the best performance of his career. It is the only serious moment in a film that takes place in the world of a narcissistic, egotistical man who believes he deserves to take whatever he wants simply because he is smarter than everyone else.
In the early 90s, Mark Whitacre (Damon) began acting as an informant for the FBI after he alerted them to an international price-fixing scam perpetrated by his employer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), an agri-industry giant whose products, according to Whitacre, can be found in everything you eat every day. Whitacre works with Special Agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) to gather evidence against ADM in hopes of filing a federal suit against the company. When the agents ask Whitacre why he’s turning on his employer, the answer is simple: "I see someone doing something wrong and I want to stop it."
As it turns out, Whitacre isn’t the honest, hard-working American he claims to be. We slowly realize that Whitacre is the king of all unreliable narrators but since he is telling the story there’s nothing we can do except go along for the ride and get a glimpse into the inner workings of his mind.
The film is based on actual events that happened less than 20 years ago. The book on which this film is based was written by Kurt Eichenwald and is a straight forward explanation of what happened. Not surprisingly the film takes a slightly different tone as Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns focus on the total absurdity of what took place and the warped self-aggrandizement that Whitacre maintained for most of his life.
Soderbergh has again shown that he is one of the greatest directors working today. He allows Whitacre to narrate the story without really ever addressing what is going on. Most of his voiceovers are random, stream of consciousness monologues that don’t have anything to do with what we’re watching. This only serves to enhance Whitacre’s self-importance, as if his internal thoughts are more crucial than the events taking place in the story. Soderbergh does a marvelous job of surrounding Whitacre with characters played by professional comedians, both famous and not so famous, to really drive home the absurdity of what is happening. Not for a moment do we believe any of these people are who they are pretending to be and that’s the point. We don’t believe them so we shouldn’t believe Whitacre.
Damon is simply outstanding in what will surely be a rightly rewarded performance come award season. He completely strips away all his Hollywood charm and good looks to become the guy who, if he didn’t talk so much, you would never notice was in the room with you. He is also hilarious and carries the film by committing fully to the fact that Whitacre believes he is smarter than everyone else and so feels he should be allowed to do whatever he wants.
The Informant! is by far one of the year’s best films and showcases a brilliant director and wonderful actor, both of whom deserve to be nominated for breaking out of any pre-conceived notions about their abilities as artists. | Matthew F. Newlin