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The Informant

06 Aug

The Informant –­– directed by Steven Soderbergh. Big Business Biodrama. A corporate whistle-blower works with the FBI and into a hornet’s nest of surprises. 108 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★

Am I crazy or is this character Matt Damon plays crazy? And, if crazy, how can I ask myself to invest in his story as one in which a drama of personal choice is embedded. If he’s nuts he can’t choose. Fix, lies, and audio-tape don’t work with a nut as protagonist.

Sold to us a comedy, this a Good Humor man selling us the same bill of goods as the criminals in it. The fault lies in the length of the piece, which has a wonderful screenplay, but which offers us at the last twenty minutes a string of daft surprises, as though everyone involved suffered the obsession as the main character and simply couldn’t stop. “This stuff really happened. It is so good, no one could make it up.” Yes, but you have to apply the same rigors of story-telling as if you had made it up. Your responsibility is to entertainment not to journalism.

Mark Whitacre is a fabulist from the start. That is to say he tells himself a story about himself, and then tells it to everyone else around, and he is so whitebread, everyone believes it, particularly himself. For instance, he seems to believe that once he overthrows the company-heads for price-fixing that he will be put in charge of the company himself.

Everyone rolls their eyes at this daffy dream, but no one comes outright to say he is dumb to think this and, moreover, to install it as the basis of his operations as a white-hat do-gooder. This is big-business. No one is going to put him in charge for turning them in. Doesn’t he get it?

What Matt Damon brings to the part is his willingness to wear a lot of padding over his buffed frame, to wear a mustache the shape of a fart, and to engage his head with a bald wig that renders him virtually unrecognizable. But he also plays the part with a naiveté that fuels Whitacre’s acts and keeps us as the audience on the sympathy-with-the-character side of the fence. Damon keeps us fooled. Just as Whitacre keeps fooling himself, and with the same means: innocent fairy tales.

It may sound like faint praise to call Damon the most useful actor in films today, but it is meant as real praise. For he takes on all sorts of non-leading-man, character roles, as here when, at the peak of his masculinity and looks at age 32, he embarks on this impersonation. An actor of perhaps fatal likeablity, because of Damon, we stay for the outcome of Whitacre’s life long after we have lost patience with it. Damon tends to play his characters as men of marked reserve, and, because the script doesn’t offer it, we never get inside Whitacre, although we get a lot of outside. If Whitacre is bi-polar, we never see it here, perhaps because being bi-polar is just another Whitacre fable. Here Whitacre is just a crafty fool. It would be interesting to see Damon play a character of high temperament. It would be interesting if Damon one day gave us poles.

The film is beautifully shot, directed, written, and beautifully scored by Marvin Hamlisch.

 
 
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