Corporate greed and illegal activities are the stuff of drama -- but can they be funny? This is answered, sort of, in The Informant!, the latest movie from director Steven Soderbergh. Based on a real-life investigation and scandal, this movie takes a comic look at the worst whistle-blower in history.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is a scientist-turned-executive for agricultural business ADM. When the FBI investigates a case of corporate espionage, Whitacre winds up telling them about ADM's price-fixing, an illegal arrangement between several multinational companies. Soon FBI agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale) are using Whitacre as their agent, having him do everything from deliver corporate documents to record conversations.

Whitacre seems to be an intelligent and nice guy who can't help talking; a voiceover has him rambling constantly, often about things unrelated to what's happening around him. Unfortunately, he also has his share of ridiculous optimism (when the scandal breaks, he believes he'll be promoted at the company he's spying on) and his share of secrets: during the second half of The Informant! almost every scene has a new revelation about Whitacre.

The Informant! is an uneven blend of comedy and drama. The movie completely revolves around Marc Whitacre, with the effective supporting cast having little to do but react to him. Matt Damon makes Whitacre an interesting blend of a man, someone who knows a tremendous number of facts but who can't stop telling people things even when he should know better. He's also convinced he's the hero in everything, even as his personal sins keep coming to light. Soderbergh doesn't know quite how to treat the material, though: Early on Whitacre's naive optimism seems comical, but then things grow far more grim. It doesn't help that the music by Marvin Hamlisch would be more in place in a 1960s comedy that this mid-'90s drama.

The Informant! is an interesting story, where the person doing the right thing is the person who's done his share of wrong as well. The movie isn't consistently funny enough or dramatic enough to be great, but Damon is quite entertaining and a worthy lead for this tale.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: