14
Oct
09

Movie Review: The Informant!

informant_ver2

Lies, lies, and corporate lies!

Starring Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey and Scott Bakula. Directed by Steve Soderbergh.

Mix equal parts of “The Tailor of Panama” and “The Insider.” Stir in “American Psycho” inner monologue. Serve to the entire theater.

So goes the story of Mark Whitacre (Damon), Vice President of ADM, a corn-based company located in Decatur, IL. ADM makes Lysine which is injected into corn products as well as any food that has anything to do with corn (note: too many to list). Whitacre is a former biochemist turned businessman faced with a problem: there’s a virus in the mix which is limiting their production and losing the company $7 million a day. Whitacre claims that there’s a saboteur at the Japanese plant who can be outed for $10 mil. Corporate sabotage justifies the FBI to tap Whitacre’s phone line and Agent Bryan Shepard (Bakula) arrives on the scene. Faced with the possibility that he may be found out, Whitacre’s wife Ginger (Lynskey) pleads to Mark to tell the truth and, facing whatever she may say, he tells Shepard about corporate price fixing.

The wheels slowly go into motion. Shepard has an informant on the corporate world who may leak one of the biggest finds ever: a corporation adjusting the price for corn products in various locations just because they can. Whitacre finds in Shepard the ability to expurgate every wrongdoing he sees the company having a part in. His plan: to wipe-out the bad guys leaving him, the shining white knight of justice. He wears wires and holds conferences in places where he has tipped-off the FBI to meetings.

“He tells the truth one day and the next he tells you two lies.” Such is the problem Shepard has with Whitacre. Every truth leads him to more lies and once those lies are explained and set to the truth, more lies follow. Whitacre is affable, personable, and believes that what he’s doing is right and does so with no apparent malice. He wants to go his own way hoping everything will go as planned.

Meanwhile Shepard is trying to make a case against the corporation and finds himself hampered by the same person claiming to “help.” Whitacre tells Shepard one thing, Shepard comments and advises a direction, then Whitacre does what he wants to do without regard to whether it’s safe, sane, or correct. Eventually he becomes the “scapegoat” of Whitacre’s frustrations with himself.

Filmmaker Soderbergh treats the material in a manner akin to being a 70s film; think Coppola’s “The Conversation” via a bumbling exec with the jazz soundtrack of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Instead of making it like Mann’s “The Insider” or a Sidney Lumet thriller, Soderbergh shows that Whitacre wasn’t the only one who made some dumb moves; the FBI did their fare share as well. Plus there’s the “hazy-filter” shots, the attention to (now dated) technology, and the general lightheartedness of Whitacre.

“See this? I’m double-oh-fourteen. ‘Cause I’m twice as smart as James Bond.” No doubt Damon enjoyed saying this line because he’s played Jason Bourne and is known for not being a big fan of the Bond franchise. This line suits Whitacre entirely because, let’s face it, the man is too caught up in saving himself to do the right thing. For instance Shepard tells Whitacre to tell ADM that he will get his own lawyer and that he is cooperating with the government. Whitacre then meets ADM’s lawyer who after having a private consultation says that yes, he will need his own lawyer. He then gets a lawyer and drops the bomb of it all in the firm’s lap. He continues lying and gets a new lawyer, this one a small-town personal injury lawyer. Smart, eh?

Not to be outdone, the question “who is Mark Whitacre?” comes to the forefront and the FBI finds out from ADM’s lawyer that Whitacre was embezzling money the entire 2.5 years he was working undercover for them. How much? First it was $2 million. Then $5 million. Then $7.7 million. The final amount was probably $9.5 million. According to Whitacre he was creating his own severance package in the event he wasn’t working for ADM anymore. This changes the direction from being a case of a VP exposing a corporation to a VP embezzling from the corporation. Shepard’s reputation has been tainted and to make matters worse Whitacre is claiming that Shepard hit him in the face with a briefcase. The lies never end.

The trial comes and goes and Whitacre, having exhausted everything including a claim to being bi-polar, is the biggest loser of all. While his corporate comrades received jail sentences of 3 years each with 45 counts of embezzlement Whitacre receives 9 years and is released in 2006. Whitacre currently works as a COO for a company in California. His wife is still with him.

While the film is enjoyable there is a slight snag: the character never changes. You get into Whitacre’s character via his actions and personal narration but the problem is that he doesn’t change. You empathize with Shepard because he’s trying to do the right thing, the correct thing, and Whitacre just doesn’t care. However, Whitacre isn’t mean or nasty about it; he’s too wrapped-up protecting himself and pretending to be the good guy even until the end. I honestly wanted to see Whitacre break down and say, “Okay. I’ll stop lying and drawing more attention to myself than I have to,” but that never happens. It’s funny how he subverts the idea of change for the sake of complacency, but not smart. By the end of the movie you appreciate Shepard and still like Whitacre, but less than when you started the journey with him.

Good execution, good story, and good acting.

My grade: a standard B.

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1 Response to “Movie Review: The Informant!”


  1. October 15, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    thannnnnnnkkkkksssss

    Like


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