Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Premise: The true story of Mark Whitacre, an executive for an agricultural corporation involved in an international price fixing scheme. When Whitacre begins cooperating with the FBI, things get complicated as Whitacre’s own secrets are exposed.
What Works: Steven Soderbergh’s filmography can be divided into two halves: one half is made of films like Oceans 11 and Erin Brockovich; these films follow established storytelling styles but are often well made and easily accessible by audiences. The other half are films like The Girlfriend Experience and Bubble, which are creative with their filmmaking style but have uneven success as stories or as pieces of cinema. The Informant! fits much more in the former category but it displays some of the risk taking that marks Soderbergh’s experimental work. The film has an essentially straightforward narrative structure but it slowly and very smoothly shifts the focus of the film as the truth of Whitacre comes to the surface. The mix of these styles makes The Informant! a terrific piece of film, one that challenges its audience while also delivering an accessible piece of entertainment. Matt Damon gives one of his best performances in this film. It is not a flashy or glamorous role but Whitacre is a complex character. Damon does not ham it up but he is able to be very funny and captures the contrast between the earnest appearance and apparent good intentions of Whitacre and the corruption and deceit behind his actions. As the film goes on and Whitacre’s life and the FBI’s case are put under stress, the film is able to pick apart the man’s character, and Damon does some of his best work in the second half of the film.
What Doesn’t: There is a lot of information in The Informant! and as the film’s focus shifts from price fixing to personal fraud some audience members might strain to keep track of everything.
Bottom Line: The Informant! is one of Steven Soderbergh’s best films. It is a culmination of the filmmaker’s talents and Soderbergh has produced a picture with wide audience appeal and high cinematic craft.
Episode: #257 (September 27, 2008)