The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Informant!

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Jacqueline Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Informant!

There’s an exclamation point at the end of the title for good reason. Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) loves to inform. He’ll eagerly assist the FBI, their attorneys, his attorneys, opposing attorneys, and anyone who’ll listen to his story of price fixing in the multinational food industry. Whitacre’s a biochemist with a big mouth, and he knows a thing or two about lysine, the substance that’s being illegally regulated within the industry. Lysine is apparently a key ingredient in many foods, corn products in particular.

Spectacularly lacking in discretion and veracity, Whitacre is convincing and likeable enough so that years pass on an FBI sting operation featuring him as the lead informant against his own employer, Illinois-based food giant ADM – Archer Daniels Midland. Phones are tapped; meetings are held.

The detachment with which Whitacre can squeal on his bosses while continuing to accept huge raises from them makes for an oddly appealing character that you’d like to support – if only you could figure out what the real story is. Every time Whitacre recites his tale, it evolves ever so slightly, or there’s another really important detail that changes the entire landscape of his involvement.

The eccentric nerd is full of trivial facts and musings in periodic voiceover narrations. Do polar bears know their noses are black? Do they try to conceal them while hunting? How? Corn is a favorite topic, and there’s something about fetishes too. Whitacre is apparently a well-rounded ponderer. That’s also true of his physical appearance.

Whitacre’s wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey) stands behind her man, despite a plethora of red flags waving in the wind. She’s another rollercoaster of fact and fiction, riding them both like twin rails on a scary attraction in the amusement park of greed. Whitacre’s already aboard.

Working with FBI agents Brian Shepherd (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale), Whitacre assists with the investigation by wearing a wire, planting bugs and presiding at meetings designed to get the word “agree” spoken out loud by the international attendees. He speaks into his briefcase and gapes open-mouthed at a hidden camera. James Bond he’s not.

Supporting characters along the way to the inevitable prosecutorial dénouement include comedians Patton Oswalt and both Tommy and Dick Smothers. Funny people in serious roles are still funny, sometimes even more so than when the jokes intentionally fly.

Matt Damon is a pudgy bespectacled unassuming nerd who can’t get his story straight, playing the role in nearly slack-jawed wonderment of his involvement in such an exciting endeavor. He portrays Whitacre as a caring, crusading whistle-blower who believes with every fiber of his being that he will be the next CEO of the company he’s working so hard to topple.

Melanie Lynskey has just the kind of wide-eyed naïveté that you either find endearing or gratingly disingenuous. Like the Whitacre character, her Ginger borders on the edge of seeming simple-minded and delusional at times.

Scott Bakula looks weary and battered from all the subterfuge. Joel McHale never cracks a smile but is great at appearing stunned and befuddled.

Director Stephen Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich) takes a disarmingly lighthearted approach to his subject matter which is based on a true story, detailed in reporter Kurt Eichenwald’s book of the same name. The Marvin Hamlisch score is jaunty and underscores the absurdly unfolding events with a breeziness that belies their serious nature – which matches Whitacre’s demeanor on his espionage-like travels to the shores of both Truth and Deception.

The Informant! is like a ping-pong tournament of accusation and contradiction. Whitacre manages to remain likeable throughout the lunacy, with an unflappable assurance in his mission and a rationalization for every rainstorm of threatened federal indictments.

You’ll find out all of the information The Informant! has to offer, right up until the closing credits. Whitacre lives up to his covert title so well that you may find yourself wishing he’d just shut up already. The exclamation point guarantees he won’t.