A story so bizarre it must be true, The Informant! gives a twist to the espionage sub-genre, and establishes Matt Damon as one of his generations best actors.
The Informant! is based on true events, involving the exposure of one of the biggest white collar crimes in American history. But instead of creating a tense thriller involving corporate malpractice and character assassination (something like a The Insider 2.0), director Steven Soderbergh has opted to play it for laughs and succeeds in doing so, delivering a constantly amusing and often bewildering film about one man and his derailment of one of the biggest corporations from the inside.
Said man is Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a well to do biochemist and vice president of ADM, an agricultural food processing conglomerate which took a big hit for price fixing, thanks to Whitacre’s playing informant for the FBI, of which this movie depicts.
Damon affirms his credentials as a fine character actor, the Bourne star gaining weight and donning wig and spectacles, in his equally comedic and tragic depiction of a dork playing out his espionage fantasies.
That the film lives and dies on Damon’s performances is power to his work as an actor, with The Informant! less a true crime story and more a delve into the psyche of this most peculiar and empathetic man. Rambling narration provided by Damon not only shakes up the over used plot device, but also cues the viewer into Whitacre’s diminished mental state.
With Whitacre living out his James Bond fantasies in real time, Soderbergh effectively exploits Whitacre’s deluded state to create a film which, although based in the 1990s, screams Bond era 1960s in its use of groovy soundtrack and graphics.
Most astonishing of all is that the FBI got strung along for the ride. For this reason, The Informant! makes for a fine companion piece to the Coen brothers’ intelligent agency farce Burn After Reading.