Steven Soderbergh rides along on a wavelength that is all to himself. It’s impossible to directly liken him to another name in cinema. In fact, the one constant that runs along all the films in his filmography is that outside of the Ocean’s series, no one film is truly like another.
And Soderbergh’s quietly funny satire The Informant! is only an extension of the variance his films have contained ever since he broke into the business with his industry changing film Sex, Lies and Videotape.
Based on a true “tattle-tale”, The Informant! is the story of a lysine price-fixing conspiracy centered on the company ADM. High-ranking Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) plays whistleblower on the whole situation, but things just don’t work out the way the bipolar executive envisions them to.
Certainly nothing about a man’s turmoil in life due to a bipolar disorder is funny, but this film, which happens to focus on such a thing, certainly is. Damon’s performance as antihero Mark Whitacre is a charismatic and indulging turn, and probably one of the actor’s best ever. And this perfect portrayal of a delusional, reckless-with-words man that Damon had to gain 20 to 30 pounds for is one of the reasons the film has such a high level of satirical, ironic and subtle sense of humor. Most of the funny business here flies low under the radar and the facade of the whole thing.
While I remain true to my no two Soderbergh films are the same mantra, those that have seen Soderbergh’s earlier comedy about office plight, Schizopolis, will know better than anyone else what to expect with this film. While not as strange as the experimental Schizopolis, the film is certainly not straight on its rocker, much like the main character. This goes for the film’s pacing and interludes of Whitacre’s random bipolar induced thoughts, which makes for some of the funniest dialogue in the film. “How do polar bears know their noses are black?” Whitacre wonders mid conversation.
And what cultural subtext message about big business sent by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who adapted the story to screen from the book The Informant, by Kurt Eichenwald. Here we have this mentally perturbed man, who if not for criminal involvement of his own, would be seen as a national hero for his exposure of his own corrupt corporation. And this “everyman” who absolutely earns his title of antihero, is one of the most likeable characters in the film and a man who appears to be one of the good guys, but in the end still comes out as corrupt.
It is true that people who aren’t in the same strange stratosphere as Soderbergh might not understand what there’s to take out of this film. But without Soderbergh’s consistently ironic tone or Damon’s outrageous performance that builds and builds and pulls the audience back into the story with each additional lie, what’s left is a rather average business web of intrigue story. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few people feel left out. The Informant! could end up being comedy’s best kept secret.
The Informant! isn’t going to be remembered as a masterpiece mostly because it won’t appeal to everyone, and that’s fine, but for Soderbergh-ites like me, it truly is what’s expected and wanted when he attacks humor. If this film doesn’t successfully sneak up on everyone else by surprise, The Informant! is likely destined for cult status, much like most of Soderbergh’s past catalog has already been resigned to.